August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month

August 19, 2011

Family wearing glasses

August is back-to-school time for many students. As a parent, you've been working hard to help your child get ready. But many people forget vision checkups for their children. This is not something to be overlooked. Good vision is so important to how a student does in school.

Thirty percent of children need some kind of vision correction, and one in 10 children has an eye problem that hasn't been diagnosed. If your child is struggling in school, it's worth your time to have his or her eyes checked. It could save both of you a lot of trouble.

The two most common eye ailments in children are near- and farsightedness.

In addition to nearsightedness, also called "myopia," or farsightedness, some children have other vision problems like astigmatism.

One certified optician says the most common symptom of one of these problems is a simple one. "Probably the most complaints you're going to hear from a child is headaches," she comments.

Only 14 percent of children under age six have ever had a truly complete eye exam. Part of the problem is because, doctors say, children don't always know their sight is less than perfect. If they've never seen something with 20/20 vision, then they have nothing to compare it to.

So if there's any doubt? Take your child to see an eye care professional.

Proper vision care: the long view, from babyhood to adulthood.

Your child should have regular vision tests from the day he or she is born. You should also know which vision problems can show up during a child's early years.

Birth to Five Years Old

Proper vision screenings are a must for early detection and treatment. Newborns should have their eyes checked before they leave the hospital. The examination in the nursery is for general eye health, and includes something called a "red reflex test." This test can reveal several congenital (a condition someone is born with) eye problems, some of which may lead to blindness.

"Well baby" exams from birth to 2 years of age should also include vision checkups. Your child's doctor will use your child's history and a vision test to find out if vision problems exist.

From ages 3 to 10, exams should include vision screenings. These are different tests to judge visual acuity, or sharpness, as well as ocular alignment, which show whether your child may have a "lazy eye" or other problem.

Go to an eye specialist if there's ever a concern during a regular vision screening. An optometrist or an ophthalmologist (a medical doctor who specializes in eye care) can give your child an in-depth eye exam.

The American Optometric Association offers more tips. In addition to screenings by primary care physicians, comprehensive eye exams should be scheduled for all children at six months, three years, and five years of age. You should go for these comprehensive eye exams even if your child's vision seems good, because some early problems only a doctor can spot.

School-Age Children

Vision can change during the school years. So these are very important times for yearly eye exams – especially since more than 80 percent of early learning is visual! If your child isn't doing well in school, don't leap to the thought that he or she is bored or lazy. In some instances, the problem could be vision-related.

Problems with eye focusing, eye tracking, or eye coordination can also hurt school performance. Children have a hard time concentrating if they can't see well enough to follow along. Many children with undetected vision problems develop emotional issues. Because they don't know that they can't learn or read what's on the chalkboard because of poor vision, they may develop poor self-esteem. They might even become frustrated or act out.

The American Optometric Association says that undetected vision problems are frequently misdiagnosed. In fact, many children with vision problems are mislabeled as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.

Vision is so important to learning. An undetected visual impairment at an early age can set a child back so far he or she loses years of development in just a few short months.

Without good vision, a child's ability to learn and comprehend the world suffers. Many vision impairments begin at an early age. So the right vision checkup at the right times, can lead to a lifetime of success and independence.

If you notice any problems with your child between his or her annual eye exams, see your eye doctor right away. Possible symptoms of a vision problem include:

  • Frequent eye rubbing or blinking
  • Frequent headaches
  • Covering one eye
  • Short attention span
  • Avoiding reading assignments or holding reading materials close to the face
  • One eye turning in or out
  • Seeing double
  • Losing one's place when reading
  • Trouble with reading retention

If your child needs glasses: a few things you'll want to look at.

Today, about 30% of all children will need eyeglasses. If you're the parent of one of these children, here are 10 things to think about before you go to the optical shop.

Lens Thickness

If the prescription calls for thick lenses, keep the frames as small as possible. This will reduce the final lens thickness.

Fashion Forward

Most kids get at least a little teasing about their eyeglasses. Especially when it's the first time they wear them. So it's very important that they avoid frames that make them look "uncool." Keep in mind that the real object is to get your child to wear the glasses.

Plastic or Metal?

Children's eyeglass frames are made of either plastic or metal. In the past, plastic frames were a better choice for children. They were considered more durable and less likely to be bent or broken. But now more metal frames are built for children's wear and tear.

The Right Bridge Fit

Choosing the right frames for young children is hard because their noses aren't finished growing. Because children don't have a "bridge" on their noses, they can have trouble with plastic frames sliding down. Metal frames, which are made with adjustable nose pads, fit everyone's bridge.

Lens Material

Once you and your child agree on frames, the next thing to think about is the lenses. Children's lenses should be made of something good and strong. Two popular choices are a kind of plastic called polycarbonate, or a material called Trivex.

These lightweight materials are much less likely to break than other lens materials. Glass is the least desirable material for your child's lenses. Even though it might be treated to resist impact from, say, a flying soccer ball, glass still shatters when it breaks.

"Backup" Glasses

Children can be hard on their eyewear. So it's always a good idea to buy a second pair of glasses. Ask your optician if there are any discounts if you buy two pairs of glasses. You might also ask about prescription sports goggles if your child spends a lot of time on the playing field. These goggles can be sometimes be used as a spare pair of glasses, too. And your child might actually enjoy looking like a soccer star in school!

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