As the summer winds down and kids gear up for a new school season, parents have a lot on their plates. It’s time to stock up on pens, notebooks, and maybe a new calculator. However, one of the most valuable learning tools that children have at their disposal is often overlooked—their eyes.
Considering that roughly 80 percent of the information a child absorbs in the classroom is done visually, it makes sense that Prevent Blindness America (PBA) designates August as Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month. (All About Vision)
Even if your children aren’t old enough for school (especially, in fact!), there’s no better time to familiarize yourself with the many ways to maintain your children’s eye health.
Seeing a difference in school performance
Children who are underperforming in school or seem frustrated and disinterested in learning might simply be having difficulty reading the blackboard or efficiently scanning the words in books. A few warning signs of vision problems include:
- Reports of headaches or eyes hurting
- Blurred or double vision
- Avoidance of reading or work requiring close sight
- Frequently rubbing or blinking eyes
- Attempting to use only one eye when reading or performing a task
- Trouble remembering words or confusing them with similar ones
- Trouble identifying shapes
The vision issues that might affect a child’s school performance can be varied and may not be as simple as nearsightedness or astigmatism. If you suspect your child may have vision-related learning issues, plan a visit to your eye doctor. Even if your child is doing well in school, routine comprehensive eye exams are an essential part of maintaining your children’s overall health.
How important are eye exams for kids?
Sight is one of the most important senses to a child’s development. Within the first few months of a child’s life, their eyesight develops rapidly—the eyes help a child to crawl, identify familiar shapes and faces, and develop eye-hand coordination. (AOA)
Eyes grow and change quickly as children age, and vision problems can usually be managed or even reversed if caught early. If ignored, however, potential eye problems can lead to many complications down the road. Vision issues can result in poor socializing, difficulty in sports or other hobbies, and can adversely affect a child’s performance in school.
In a survey by the Vision Counsel, thousands of parents were asked why they hadn’t taken their children for a recent eye exam. Sixty-two percent stated that their children “don’t need one.” Another 34 percent responded that their children were “too young for vision problems.”
When to begin eye exams
As we’ve mentioned, it’s best to catch vision problems early. However, complications in vision can develop throughout childhood, so regular screenings might be necessary. How early is too early for an exam? And how often is too often? The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) suggests the following schedule:
A relatively simple exam can be performed to detect any possible vision issues when a child is born. A more comprehensive exam might be necessary if the child is premature or has experienced other health issues or abnormalities.
6 months–1 year
AAO recommends children have their first comprehensive eye exam between 6 months and 1 year of age.
Around 3 years
A third exam around 3 years of age is suggested for visual acuity testing. At this age, it’s possible to diagnose focusing problems.
Entering School (around 5 or 6)
AAO recommends another exam once a child is ready to enter school. Schedule future exams every two years unless a child has developed issues or displays evidence of an issue. In that case, follow your eye doctor’s recommendation.
Vision Screenings versus Eye Exams
Some schools and other organizations offer vision screenings, which test only a few aspects of eye function. Screenings don’t cover all vision problems; they complement—not replace—comprehensive eye exams.
Although rare, a comprehensive eye exam can actually lead to the diagnosis of issues affecting other parts of the body. Through the eye, a doctor is allowed a view of blood vessels, connecting tissue, and nerves that would otherwise be impossible to survey without surgery. Thanks to the interconnectedness of the body, this unique access can provide clues to diseases that might otherwise go undetected.
How parents can ace their child’s eye exams
Visits to the doctor can be difficult with kids. If one of the reasons you forgo eye exams is the hassle, then check out these tips to make the process go more smoothly:
Such frequent, comprehensive eye exams might seem unnecessary, but they are essential for finding and addressing problems before they worsen. If you are concerned about the cost of such exams and/or do not have vision insurance, you can look into programs that provide financial aid for vision care on the Prevent Blindness website.
- ”Learning-Related Vision Problems.” All About Vision. 2016.
- ”Infant Vision: Birth to 24 Months of Age.” American Optometric Association. 3 Aug 2016.
- ”January 2014 Vision Council Visionwatch Parent Child Vision Care Report.” The Vision Council. 2014.
- ”Eye Exams for Children.” All About Vision. 2015.
- ”Eye Screening for Children.” American Academy of Ophthalmology. 4 Aug 2014.
- ”Preschool Vision: 2 to 5 Years of Age.” American Optometric Association. 2016.
- ”“Vision Problems Of Schoolchildren.” All About Vision. 2016.
- ”Beating Marfan Syndrome.” American Academy of Ophthalmology. 29 Jul 2016.
- ”Protect Your Child from Eye Injuries.” Prevent Blindness. 2016.
- ”Choosing UV Protection.” Prevent Blindness. 2016.
- ”40 Minutes a Day Outside May Reduce Nearsightedness in Kids.” American Academy of Ophthalmology. 21 Sept 2015.
- ”Protecting young children from eye injuries at home and at play.” Prevent Blindness. 2016.