Is Your Child's Eye Exam on Your Back to School Checklist?

A woman examines her eye in a mirror.
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The summer's dwindling down, which means if you're a parent you've probably got the first day of school on your mind. You're scrolling through routine checklists in your head-clothes, school supplies, transportation plans, after-school activities. But are you overlooking important medical checkups, like getting your child's eyes checked?

Your child's vision is crucial to his or her overall health. As education becomes increasingly digital, students are switching from whiteboards to computer screens to mobile devices to books, all in the course of a school day. Making sure their vision is clear and consistent as they learn should be a priority for long-term development.

Basic visual skills essential for learning:

  • Near vision
  • Distance vision
  • Depth perception
  • Eye movement
  • Focusing skills
  • Peripheral awareness
  • Eye/hand coordination

Regular exams help ensure your child's eyes are performing all of these essentials skills so their school days are happier, healthier, and free of headaches and possibly injury that can occur because of poor vision.

WHEN TO PLAN YOUR EXAMS?

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus (AAPOS) that infants and children be routinely screened for vision problems during routine well-child visits with their pediatricians.

Additionally, the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends a one-time vision screening for children ages 3 to 5 to detect the presence of amblyopia, poor vision in an otherwise normal appearing eye that occurs when the brain does not fully recognize the sight from that eye.

Before school begins, or whenever a problem is suspected, your child's eyes should be screened for visual acuity and alignment by your pediatrician, family doctor, ophthalmologist, optometrist or someone, usually a school nurse, trained in vision assessment of school-aged children.

Even though most schools are doing a better job of conducting regular screenings, sometimes there are vision issues that teachers, and even parents can miss, says Rebecca Kurzon, MD, an ophthalmologist at AdventHealth.

You have to be attentive to simple things, if you notice your children straining, squinting, having trouble tracking or reading, consult your pediatrician, and if needed schedule an exam with an optometrist or ophthalmologist, explains Dr. Kurzon.

What are the potential problems?

  • Myopia (Nearsightedness)
  • Hyperopia (Farsightedness)
  • Astigmatism (Imperfectly curved cornea)
  • Strabismus (Misaligned eyes)

In most children, basic vision correction is all that's needed to alleviate any issues your child may be having. What Dr. Kurzon says is a potentially more dangerous problem is Amblyopia, or what's more commonly known as lazy eye.

Amblyopia reduces vision in one eye caused by abnormal development early in life. When the eye weakens, or is lazy, it can wander inward or outward. But it's important to remember the symptoms of lazy eye aren't always apparent to an untrained observer, and early detection can mean the difference between correction and long-term damage, especially since it generally develops from birth up to age 7.

It's one of the things we worry about with kids, and it's much more important to catch early because if left untreated it can cause permanent damage to development in one eye, she says.

GETTING THE RIGHT HELP

For eye exams, its pretty simple, explains Dr. Kurzon. She recommends parents have open communication with their pediatricians regarding healthy vision, especially when a child is old enough to read eye charts and conduct basic tests. Naturally, parents should make eye exams part of their regular health routines all the way through teenage years to ensure the best chance for catching and correcting problems at the appropriate times.

Schedule exams at times when your child is usually alert and happy, and preferably during the summer months so they can be ready with any treatments they need before the first school bell rings.

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