That’s right: Getting childrens’ eyes checked should be part of the back-to-school routine, especially if they’ve never had a thorough examination. Kids need strong reading skills, and those depend partly on the ability to perceive what’s in a book, on a tablet or at the other end of the classroom on a smartboard. A back-to-school eye exam could be in order.
Besides correcting poor sight through an exam, doctors can treat conditions such as strabismus or amblyopia. As our July blog about pediatric care explains, you have to catch those early to address them effectively. Exams also establish a baseline from which to track vision changes year to year. They even detect color-blindness, which turns up in one boy out of ten. (You’ll find information on Horizon Eye Care’s Pediatrics Center page.)
What Should I Expect During the Exam?
Eye exams vary according to age and ability to respond. A baby can’t speak. So, doctors may cover one eye and use a toy to judge reactions. They can also place a prism over the eyes to check whether one eye works better than the other. A young child may not yet be able to do the vision chart reliably. So doctors use a retinoscope and other instruments to make accurate decisions about prescriptions.
Pediatric ophthalmologists keep exams such as your child’s back-to-school eye exam as pleasant as possible, using matching games, cartoons, short films or flashing toys. Most kids don’t like the dilating drops as they sting slightly. But only for a few minutes. (Optomap, a new non-dilation procedure, may also work, though the extra cost isn’t covered by insurance.)
Most childhood vision problems can be solved with a simple pair of eyeglasses; a child may want unbreakable Miraflex frames, which are flexible, safe, hypoallergenic and brightly colored. Children with amblyopia (also known as “lazy eye”) may require a patch over the stronger eye to develop the weaker one; they can choose among colorful adhesive patches with kid-friendly designs.
What Should Parents Watch For?
A child’s eye exam comes with advice for parents, too. Eye trauma remains a leading cause of childhood vision loss. So, anyone who plays with paintballs or Airsoft guns — or in a sport where the ball is smaller than a baseball — should wear safety glasses. Of course, any sport with physical contact can result in eye injury and vision loss. Youngsters who spend a lot of time outdoors need UVA and UVB protection via sunglasses and a brimmed hat.
Adults who feel their children spend too much time with electronic devices may hope an exam will back them up, if they tell kids not to sit too close to a TV or stare too long at a smartphone or tablet. However, no solid evidence links prolonged exposure to these devices with a negative impact on vision. Some authorities even recommend video games to engage a child’s visual system during treatment for lazy eye.
On the other hand, doctors do associate nearsightedness with extended focusing up close, which handheld devices require. So encourage your kids to spend as much time as possible playing outdoors: Their eyes will benefit, and so will the rest of their growing bodies.