August is Children’s Eye Health & Safety Month: Send Your Children Back to School with Everything They Need for Success, Including an Eye Exam!
By Carole L. Hong, OD, FCOVD
As children head back to school, be sure to add a comprehensive eye exam to your prep list and follow these tips to ensure a successful year ahead. Don’t mistakenly assume that if your children have 20/20 vision or can see things in the distance just fine, that their vision is good and there is no need for an eye exam.
Children don’t know how they are supposed to see, so they rarely complain; they show us they have a problem with their behaviors. Therefore, it is important for parents to know the signs of a potential vision problem. Most parents know the obvious signs when they see their children squint or they can’t see something in the distance. But when it comes to vision problems that can impact reading and schoolwork the signs are not as obvious and can often be confused with learning disabilities and attention problems; for example, does your child:
- Get frustrated when trying to read or do homework?
- Take longer doing homework than it should?
- Have a “tracking” problem?
- Have trouble making out words?
- “Forget” to bring homework assignments home?
- Skip words or repeat lines when reading out loud to you?
- Reverse letters like b’s into d’s when reading?
- Have a short attention span with schoolwork?
If your child has any of these signs, he or she may have a fully correctable vision problem. Also, don’t assume that because the results of the last vision screening were good that your child could not possibly have a vision problem.
If you think about it for a minute: Where does a child do most of his or her learning? Most reading, writing, homework, and test taking are done up close (one may see well at distance, but not see properly within arms’ distance). So, what are some of the visual skills that are missed if we only look at distance vision and only check if someone has “20/20”?
When we are reading we need to be able to:
- Follow a line of print from left to right.
- See the letters clearly as our eyes are moving
- Move from line to line effortlessly and accurately.
In the classroom, children also need to be able to look at the materials on their desk and quickly focus on the teacher’s writing on the board so they can copy it back to their notes. Children need to keep our eyes looking at their book or assignment for sometimes 50 minutes at a time. And we need to be able to do this repeatedly all day long! If any of these visual skills are missing or deficient, reading and learning will be difficult.
Eye coordination and eye focusing problems can make learning difficult; they can make the words appear blurry, double or look like they are moving. More than 5 million children in the U.S. have eye coordination and eye focusing disorders which cause them to continue struggling with reading despite the best interventions.
But, fortunately, children don’t have to struggle! Research from the last 20 years has clearly shown that problems with eye coordination and eye focusing are common and can be effectively treated with Optometric Vision Therapy.
So, how often should your children have an eye exam? School-age children should have an eye exam every year and infants should have their first exam when they are 6 – 12 months old. To encourage new parents to bring their infants in for their first eye exam, the American Optometric Association has teamed up with Johnson & Johnson to offer no-cost eye exams for infants 6 – 12 months of age. To find a participating doctor you can visit: www.infantsee.org.
When it comes to eye safety, preventing sports injuries is at the top of the list. While most children are able to play sports safely there are those occasional accidents that highlight the need to take precautionary measures to protect your child’s eyes.
To give you a better idea of why this is so important, two teenagers had similar accidents with very similar results. They were both hit in their eyes with a ball. One was a soccer ball the other a soft ball. Both girls suffered the same injury, resulting in a Hyphema, where the eye ball fills with blood. They had no vision out of their injured eye for about a week. This, of course, is a very serious injury and predisposes these girls for glaucoma (a sight threatening disease) for the remainder of their lives. Both injuries were completely avoidable had they been wearing sports safe eye wear.
Eye injuries can destroy an athlete’s career or a child’s future. Therefore, if you or your child loves sports, you need to take important precautions. More and more professional athletes are recognizing the hazards and taking precautions to protect themselves. If you aren’t sure if sports eyewear is worth the investment, here are some facts to consider:
- More than 600,000 eye injuries related to sports and recreation occurs each year.
- Over 85% of children do not utilize protective eyewear in situations that represent a risk of eye injury.
- Every 13 minutes a person with a sports-related eye injury visits an emergency room.
- Sports Eyewear protects your eyes not only from injury, but can also protect from ultraviolet light as well.
Most people take the usual precautions when playing a given sport: helmets and knee pads, for instance, but few take measures to protect their eyes. With eye injuries, most of the time the damage is permanent, and most of the injuries could have been prevented. It is important to keep in mind that sports goggles are separate and distinct from “fashion” or “dress” eyewear, because everyday eyeglasses are not held to the same protective standards as eyewear products labeled for protective sports use.
Be smart and protect yourself and your loved ones, too. Sports goggles and swim goggles are available through most eye doctor’s offices. They are designed to meet all the safety standards and are available with prescription and non-prescription lenses.
In addition, to watching for signs of a vision problem that might affect reading and learning and protecting your children’s eyes from a sports injury, here are three more important tips for a Lifetime of Healthy Vision as recommended by the American Optometric Association:
- Give Your Eyes a Break From Digital Device Use: Practice the 20/20/20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break and look at something 20 feet away. In addition, protect them from Blue Light, that part of the UV spectrum that come from backlit devices, such as your smartphone or tablet. The negative effects of Blue light such as eyestrain, headaches, fatigue, poor sleep patterns on overall health can now be minimized with filters on your devices or coatings on your glasses.
Our kids especially are using smart phones and tablets more than ever, so monitor how much time they spend texting friends and playing video games on these devices. It’s not definitive that heavy computer use, texting or constant reading are contributing to the increase in nearsightedness we are seeing today, but experts certainly agree and a recent study showed that too much smart phone use can cause crossed eyes, blurred vision or focusing problems.
- Protection Against UV Rays: No matter the season, it’s important to wear sunglasses. Buy your child sunglasses to protect his/her eyes against UV exposure. Be sure to choose glasses that have “100% UV protection.” That said, being out in the sun has been shown to decrease the incidence of myopia or nearsightedness. So go out and play, getting a healthy dose of sunshine.
Proper sun wear is important for infants and toddlers, too. If they are going to be out in the sun, be sure they have a hat and that their eyes are protected. Special sunglasses are available for little ones that are safe, inexpensive, provide all the UV protection they need and wrap around their head so they don’t fall off while they are playing in the sun!
- Eat Your Greens! Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, particularly the leafy green variety. In addition to encouraging your child to consume dark green vegetables, be sure to have plenty of vitamin-fortified milk, as milk isn’t only good for strong bones, but good for healthy eyes too!
Carole L. Hong, OD, FCOVD, board certified in vision development, has been practicing in San Carlos for over 20 years. She is an expert in children’s vision, vision and learning, and treatment of vision problems for those with special needs, head injury or stroke. Dr. Hong practices with Drs. Surbhi Bansal and Julie Kim, also developmental optometrists. They can be reached at (650) 593-1661 or email@example.com. In addition to their website, www.FamilyVisionCare.Org, more helpful information can be found at www.children-special-needs.org, www.aoa.com, and www.visionhelp.com