August is the month when many families are working through their checklist to ensure their kids are ready to start school. In honor of Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month, please let me emphasize how important comprehensive eye exams are for children (and all ages, but let’s focus on kids for now).
A pediatrician has a limited time to check a child’s entire body. The pediatrician will be looking for big problems with the eyes, but understandably cannot extensively evaluate vision/eye health. Although a school vision screening can evaluate a lot about vision, it is also not comprehensive and fails to detect certain anomalies. Nothing compares to a general eye exam with an eye doctor in a professional setting.
If a child can read 20/20 on the eye chart at the pediatrician’s office, that does not mean the child is exempt from a comprehensive eye exam. Children who can read 20/20 can also be at risk for problems such as “eye turns,” “lazy eyes,” difficulty using their eyes together, difficulty focusing their eyes, blurred vision, headaches, eye health issues, and more. All of these can make learning challenging. In fact, children have been misdiagnosed with ADD/ADHD, when in fact that individual had a treatable visual or processing difficulty. Or, perhaps the individual was correctly diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, but because of his/her attention deficit disorder, he/she would benefit from glasses and possibly classroom accommodations that could make learning easier.
Children who can read 20/20 can also have unhealthy eyes. Did you know that kids who blink a lot and/or rub their eyes could be suffering from ocular allergies? Their symptoms may not be resolved with oral allergy medicine. Certain eye drops can be helpful, but others can be addictive to the eyes and may not be FDA approved for their age. Did you know that children who touch/rub their eyes are at risk for eyelid inflammation? If their hands are not clean (which is often the case for kids), they could be spreading bacteria/viruses/mites/etc to their eyelids and eyelashes! Yes, there is a pervasive mite that lives in eyelash follicles and will feast off bacteria that live on eyelashes . A child can catch or spread those mites from friends, parents, and/or pets.
Eye safety is essential for children. If they wear glasses, the lenses material should be impact resistant. Additionally, everyday glasses are not appropriate for many sports, such as football, basketball, wrestling, martial arts, swimming, and water polo. Safety is not just about the glasses breaking and no longer working; safety also includes ensuring no pieces of the glasses breaks and makes direct contact into someone’s eyelid or eyeball. Safety means preventing traumatic eye and body injuries. Prescription sports goggles or contact lenses are options you can discuss with your child’s eye doctor.
Lastly, parents sometimes think “my child does not complain about their vision” or “he/she has no problems reading signs or seeing tiny things on the floor/wall” or “my kid’s eyes are fine because he/she gets good grades.” Many children do not know if they are seeing normally or not. They have nothing to compare their vision to. They many not realize there is something to complain about. Or they may be seeing fine, but it takes them a long time to read, or they get headaches, or they do not enjoy reading. He/she may not be the class clown or trouble maker because of (only) personality – if you could not see clearly or comfortably, you may also have a tough time paying attention to reading the board or reading your work.
Please add a comprehensive eye exam to your child’s back to school checklist, if he/she has never had one before. General eye exams are recommended at 6-9 mos, 2.5-3 years, and 5 years old, unless instructed otherwise by a doctor. If your child has had a comprehensive eye exam within the last year, please feel free to contact their doctor if you have any questions/concerns about their eye health and safety.