Whether your child will attend school virtually or in person this year, we all have back-to-school shopping lists. Your list might include school supplies, new clothes, and even a haircut, but does it include an eye exam? Physicians with UAB Callahan Eye Hospital & Clinics believe it should.
“More often than not, vision problems go unnoticed until children begin school,” says Marcela Frazier, OD, associate professor of Ophthalmology. “Children grow up naturally adapting to vision issues, so when they get into school and start reading and learning, that is when parents and teachers begin to notice certain problems.”
Comprehensive eye exams can detect a variety of eye conditions that, left untreated in a child, could result in partial or complete loss of vision later in life. Common conditions include astigmatism and nearsightedness. Conditions such as amblyopia (lazy eye) or convergence insufficiency (when your eyes have trouble working together to look at nearby objects) can cause serious problems if not addressed early in life.
Basic Screening vs. Full Eye Exam
A screening at a pediatrician’s office is a great way to get referred for a vision or eye problem suspected in a child, but even a screening can miss eye problems that would be found during a full, dilated eye exam. Children can be seen as early as six months, or even earlier if a problem is suspected. If there is a family history of any eye conditions, such as strabismus (eye turn), amblyopia (lazy eye) or refractive error (needing glasses), a full eye exam is recommended to ensure the child’s vision and ocular health are normal.
It is important to remember that even a small change in vision can cause eye strain and affect a child’s performance in school.
“Vision isn’t the first culprit parents think of when their child is struggling in school,” Dr. Frazier says, “but it can be playing a part in their child’s poor school or sports performance.”
Here are nine signs children may need an eye exam:
- Complaining of headaches: When children overly strain their eyes to focus, it causes headaches over extended periods of time.
- Eye fatigue after reading: Eye fatigue can causes burning, itching, and tiredness. It might be difficult to notice these symptoms in a child, but if a child is falling behind in reading comprehension or shies away from reading activities, this might be the culprit.
- Poor sports performance: If a child’s visual processing seems slow, this might be a sign that there is a vision issue at play. A child with an untreated vision problem might perform poorly in sports due to clumsiness, poor hand-eye coordination, the inability to focus, or depth perception problems.
- Squinting or closing one eye: Squinting does not damage the eyes, but it might be a sign that a child needs glasses. By squinting, a child is subconsciously attempting to make the pupil smaller, therefore letting in less light and enhancing his/her focus.
- Blinking or rubbing eyes: If a child rubs his/her eyes while trying to concentrate on an activity, particularly reading, or while being active, it could mean the child has a vision problem.
- Poor reading ability and comprehension: Good vision is essential for students of all ages to reach their full academic potential. If a child seems disinterested in reading, is sidetracked easily, does not understand material read, or reads the same sentence multiple times, it might be time to schedule an eye exam.
- Poor school performance: It is important for parents to remember that children do not have a concept of poor vision, so they might not always tell you when they cannot read something their teacher writes on the blackboard. As a result, their grades can suffer.
- Holding electronic devices or books too close to the eyes: It is a myth that sitting too close to electronic devices can hurt your eyes, but if a child is sitting too close to the TV or holding a book too close to his/her face, it might be a sign of a vision problem. Leaning in closely to read text or see images on the television may mean that the child is living with nearsightedness.
- Losing their place while reading: Using a finger to track the words can be typical behavior for children while learning to read, but pay attention to this behavior. They eventually should be able to focus on the words without losing their place.
UAB Callahan Eye Hospital & Clinics has both optometry and ophthalmology faculty members who specialize in pediatric care. If your child might benefit from an eye exam, please call or text us at (844) UAB-EYES.