Back to school checklist should include comprehensive eye exam for kids, Oklahoma optometrists say
Most learning is visual, and that’s why even the most bright-eyed elementary students need regular eye checkups. After all, if they can’t see their spelling words on the board, how can they master them?
Now that school is back in session, the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians is alerting parents that one-in-four children has an undiagnosed vision problem and is encouraging them to schedule comprehensive eye exams for their kids.
“It’s well documented that 80 percent of all classroom learning comes to a student through the visual pathway, and almost all tasks that a school aged child is asked to perform depend on good visual skills,” said Dr. David Hall, president of the OAOP. “However, many times a child doesn’t realize that they are having vision difficulties.”
Trouble seeing the board
Anytime a child complains of difficulty reading for long periods of time, trouble seeing the board at school, or headaches or eyestrain when using electronic devices, these are red flags that need to be addressed through an eye and vision exam, he said.
“However, there are other instances when ocular disease may be present, and the child will have no complaints or noticeable changes. That is why yearly vision and eye health exams are necessary,” Hall said.
There can also be significant changes in a child’s vision in a short period of time, he said. From ages 6 to 18, a child’s vision can change frequently or unexpectedly which can lead to behavioral and attention issues in the classroom.
“It’s vital for their ability to learn and grow properly to make sure that their vision and eyes are healthy and working well,” Hall said.
Screenings don't replace comprehensive eye exams
While many parents assume that a simple vision screening at school or in a pediatrician's office can identify most vision problems, this is not the case.
“The vision screenings can only catch some problems. Many children will pass a vision screening and yet have major vision or eye health disease,” Hall said. “Vision screenings are also not very reliable, and do not take the place of a full and complete vision and eye health exam performed in a licensed eye care practitioner’s office.”
Most vision screenings test for basic distance visual acuity without also testing the wide variety of vision conditions and problems that affect learning and schoolwork. A comprehensive vision exam is the best way to identify vision problems and should be part of the back-to-school routine, just like updating vaccinations and buying school supplies.
It's important for parents not to neglect this aspect of their children's health, because the consequences can be really profound, Hall added.
Most Americans – children and adults alike – neglect their eyesight, he said.
“Like most preventative care, if there is not an active or new problem, then most people tend to put off their eye exams for different reasons,” he said. “Many people are not aware of the need for regular eye exams for children, and how much of a role that our eyes and vision play in learning.”
A recent survey of parents or caregivers finds that only 7 percent of children beginning first grade report having received an eye exam, Hall said.
The Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians also wants parents to know that pediatric eye exams are most likely covered by your health insurance plan. In fact, 54 percent of people were unaware that the Affordable Care Act defines a comprehensive eye exam as a benefit and covers this expense, including glasses for children annually.
Eyes and technology
The association also warned that schools are increasingly using technology for learning that can strain vision.
“There is evidence that spending too much time in front of smart phones, tablets and computer screens can cause eyestrain, as well as exposure to potentially harmful blue light.”
Smart phones, tablets and computers can cause a condition known as Computer Vision Syndrome or CVS. Symptoms include eye strain, headaches, fatigue, burned or tired eyes, loss of focus, blurred vision, double vision or head and neck pain.
In fact, parents reported that two-thirds of all children across the nation use devices for homework that can cause CVS.
Parents should make their children take breaks, and follow the 20-20-20 rule: when using technology or doing near work, take a 20-second break, every 20 minutes and view something 20 feet away.
The eye doctors also said as school sports kick off again, parents and coaches should make sure that kids’ eyes are protected. Well-fitting, protective eye wear and sunglasses that offer UV protection are important to maintaining key visual skills for sports and preventing injuries.
Having regular eye exams can help children to have clear vision and be able to concentrate and perform at their best. So, put one on your schedule now.
If you have not chosen an eye care professional for your family yet, find an optometrist in your area who can provide quality vision care for your children.
Michaela Marx Wheatley is an award-winning writer and journalist who has written for newspapers and magazines in both the U.S. and Germany. These days she is a copywriter at BigWing Interactive and the editor of BrandInsight, The Oklahoman’s and... Read more ›
The mission of the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians is to lead Optometric Physicians through education and opportunities to improve vision, eye care, and health care. Read more ›