Back to School Eye Exams

August 27, 2010 10:22:32 AM PDT
As children head back to school, parents can become so consumed with supply lists that they often forget the one thing that can make or break a school year for a child-good vision, says optometrist Dr. Kelly Oliver of Arlington Heights. Eighty percent of what children learn is through vision and among school-aged children, 6-11 years old, an estimated 5.3 million have vision problems.

Eyesight plays an essential role in learning, yet many children have a vision problem and aren't aware of it, Dr. Kelly adds. They may be too young to read, too young to fully communicate, or simply don't recognize that their eyesight isn't optimal or is changing. Comprehensive eye exams are necessary to detect problems that a simple screening can miss, such as eye coordination, lazy eye, and near and farsightedness.

"A child's vision may change frequently, so regular eye and vision care is crucial to a student's classroom success and overall development," says the optometrist who practices at LensCrafters in Arlington Heights www.lenscrafters.com. "We recommend that a child's first eye exam take place at six months of age. Unless problems are detected, the next exam should be at age three, again before entering school and then annually thereafter."

WHAT HAPPENS DURING A COMPREHENSIVE EYE EXAM?
A comprehensive eye exam includes tests to determine nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, eye coordination and eye muscle function, eye focusing abilities and an overall eye health exam. Eye exams are also especially important in diagnosing diseases and disorders in young children, which may lead to vision loss and other issues that affect a person's quality of life.

There are several essential elements an optometrist will check during a comprehensive eye examination to help ensure learning is maximized through good vision. For example:

  • Visual acuity is measured at several distances so students can comfortably and efficiently read, work on the computer or see the blackboard.
  • Focusing or accommodation is an important skill that is tested. Eyes must be able to focus on a specific object, and to easily shift focus from one object to another. This allows a child to move attention from a book to the chalkboard and back.
  • Visual alignment and ocular motility is evaluated. Ideally, the muscles that aim each eye converge so that both eyes are aimed at the same object, refining depth perception.
  • Binocular fusion (eye teaming) skills are assessed. These skills are critical to coordinating and aligning the eyes precisely so the brain can fuse the pictures it receives from each eye into a single image.
  • Eye tracking skills are tested to determine whether the child can track across a page accurately and efficiently while reading, and can copy material quickly and easily from the chalkboard or another piece of paper.
  • Testing preschoolers' color vision is important because a large part of the early educational process involves the use of color identification.
  • Eye-hand-body coordination, critical for handwriting, throwing a ball or playing an instrument, and visual perception, used to interpret and understand visual information like form, size, orientation, texture and color perception, is another important visual function that is tested.
  • Overall eye health is determined by examining the structures of the eye.

WHAT ARE SOME SIGNS THAT MAY INDICATE MY CHILD NEEDS GLASSES?
"As a doctor, I look for a variety of indicators through various test and instruments during a comprehensive eye exam," Dr. Kelly says. "But parents can play an important role in looking out for certain behaviors and warning signs that could indicate a problem that may have developed in between eye exams."

Warning signs parents should watch for include:

  • Loses place while reading
  • Avoids close work
  • Tends to rub eyes
  • Has headaches
  • Turns or tilts head
  • Makes frequent reversals when reading or writing
  • Omits or confuses small words when reading
  • Consistently performs below potential
  • Struggles to complete homework
  • Squints while reading or watching television
  • Has behavioral problems
  • Holds reading material closer than normal

If parents notice these kinds of symptoms, they should schedule an appointment for their child to see their eye doctor. The ramifications of poor eyesight in children can be far-reaching, and it is crucial that any vision problems are diagnosed and treated promptly, Dr. Kelly says.

"It is especially important to monitor the signs and symptoms of vision problems as a student progresses in school due to increasing visual demands resulting from smaller print in textbooks, an increase in computer work or additional homework in general," she points out.

HOW DOES UNCORRECTED VISION AFFECT SCHOOL PERFORMANCE?
"A child with undetected vision problems can be frustrated or bored in school because he or she can't see the board or read a book easily," Dr. Kelly says. "Vision problems can be frequently misdiagnosed as behavioral problems, and if left untreated, almost always result in diminished academic performance and self-esteem problems," the optometrist adds. "Students who see well are more engaged, more empowered and more involved in academic life."

WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN CHOOSING GLASSES FOR YOUR CHILD?
"The more your child likes and feels comfortable in the glasses they wear, the more likely they are to wear them. That's why it's important to make your child a part of the frame selection process," Dr. Kelly says.

Optics come in a large selection of frames in fun colors and styles, designed to appeal to kids, the optometrist says. So many more options are available for kids today vs. past years. Glasses not only correct your vision but can also be a way to express your style and stand out in a crowd.

Some things to consider:

  • Sun Protection: When thinking about sun protection, especially in young kids, transitions lenses are a great option to make sure your child sees clearly and has proper UV protection from the sun when outdoors at recess.
  • Extra pair: However, it's still important to consider a second pair of prescription sunglasses, as glasses with transitions lenses don't provide complete UV protection over the entire eye area.
  • Protective eyewear: Children participating in contact sports should always wear protective eyewear - many of which can be made into your child's prescription and tinted for UV protection if need be. Thousands of children suffer sports-related eye injuries each year, many of which could have been prevented with appropriate protective eyewear.

HOW CAN WE HELP CARE FOR OUR GLASSES?
The best thing we can do to help keep our glasses in pristine shape is make sure they fit properly and are comfortable to wear -- that way they stay on your face, the doctor says.

There shouldn't be any pinching behind your ears and the glasses shouldn't slip down your nose. Your optician will help you achieve an optimal fit -- you can bring your glasses in any time for free adjustments.

In terms of caring for your lenses, you'll want to make sure to clean them with a microfiber cloth. Using Kleenex or a paper towel can actually scratch your lenses.

ABOUT LENSES...
When thinking about the types of lenses, work with your optician to help find the best lenses for you:

  • If you do a lot of computer work, consider a lens with an anti-reflective coating that will help reduce eyestrain.
  • Additionally, teen drivers will want a lens with an anti-reflective coating because it helps cut surface glare when driving at night. Lenses with this coating also have an aesthetic benefit in that others won't be able to see their reflection in your glasses.
  • If you're involved in sports or find yourself to be rough with the objects you own, you'll want to pick a lens that is more scratch resistant -- this is especially good for kids who are active and accident-prone as it will help prolong the life of lenses.
  • When thinking about sun protection, especially in young kids, transitions lenses are a great option to make sure your child sees clearly AND has UV protection from the sun - this one pair of glasses can serve two functions.

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