Back to school may mean going back to the eye doctor

Posted Aug. 12, 2013, at 12:35 p.m.

With the beginning of a new school year, parents’ thoughts naturally turn to shopping: new clothes, new binders and No. 2 pencils.

And while eye checkups may not fall on their collective “to do” lists, perhaps it should — roughly 80 percent of a child’s learning is done visually.

A comprehensive eye exam, experts say, is an important investment to help maximize a child’s education and contribute to overall health and wellbeing, especially since some vision problems may not have warning signs.

“Unfortunately, parents and educators often incorrectly assume that if a child passes a school screening their vision is fine,” said Dr. Glenda Brown, president of the Georgia Optometric Association and optometrist in practice at Thomas Eye Group in Suwanee, Ga. Brown said one in four children has an undiagnosed vision problem simply because the child may not recognize that his or her eyesight isn’t optimal or is changing.

We asked Brown to answer three questions parents might have related to eye health:

Q: What are the best times for a child to get an eye exam?

A: Children should have an initial exam at age 6 months, and then again when they are 3 to 4 years old. School-age children should have an eye exam yearly. But in pre-puberty, as children start their quick-growth periods, they sometimes need eye checkups every six months.

Back-to-school time is when parents often schedule the yearly eye exam as they are trying to make sure the child is ready to learn, and excellent vision is an important part of being able to learn.

For younger children, coming in early in the day for their exam will enable the doctor to get the best responses.

During the school year, many children are scheduled for eye exams later in the day, so that when they get their eyes dilated it will not affect the school day.

Q: What should parents be asking their child’s eye doctor?

A: Here’s what to ask:

• For what tasks or during how much of the day should my child wear glasses?

• What can be done to keep my child from getting eyestrain working on a computer or reading?

• When should I bring my child back for the next checkup?

• Are my child’s headaches related to his or her eyes?

• Can you give a prognosis or prediction as to how and when my child’s vision may change?

• Is there anything that can be done for my child who frequently rubs his or her eyes?

• Do I need to be concerned about my child closing one eye outside?

• Are there any exercises my child can do to help reduce eyestrain?

• How necessary is it for my child to wear sunglasses outside?

• Do you think the medications that my child is taking could have side effects on vision?

• When can my child start wearing contact lenses?

• Does my child need to wear glasses for sports?

Q: What are your best tips for preventing eyestrain?

A: Have a comprehensive eye exam during which the eyes are fully dilated. This enables your optometrist to check for Myopia (nearsightedness), Hyperopia (farsightedness) and astigmatism.

Assuming the child is seeing the best he or she can, a good tip is the 20-20-20 rule. After 20 minutes of close work, take a 20-second break by looking 20 feet away.

It is very important to have correct posture when reading a book or using a computer. Hold the book with the arms making a 90-degree angle and at least 12 inches away. The computer screen should be in a downward position, never above, and should be no more than an arm’s length away.

Lighting is extremely important. Parents should ask the teacher about the lighting conditions in the classroom. Often, when teachers are using interactive boards, the room lights are turned down and this may make it hard for students to see at their desks.

It is important for there to be no glare on the computer screen or book. Glasses that have an anti-reflection coating are very helpful for this situation.

©2013 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

Distributed by MCT Information Services

 

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