Most parents are accustomed to booking regular dental checkups for their children. However they do not realize that a child should also have regular eye exams even if they do not wear glasses. Undiagnosed vision problems can have a serious effect on a child’s development, learning ability and athletic performance.
- Eye problems can effect development. Eye muscle imbalances and squints can lead to amblyopia (“lazy eye”). It is a condition where the brain switches off signals from the squint eye to avoid double vision. Physical and athletic performance can also be affected by eye muscle problems due to reduced depth perception leading to clumsiness and poor hand-eye coordination.
- Poor vision affects learning. When a child has difficulty sustaining focus or alignment of the eyes, their visual attention and concentration will suffer. If a child is suspected of having ADD/ADHD or learning disorders that they should be referred for a comprehensive eye exam.
- South Africa has a dry climate. Many children suffer from undiagnosed dry eyes and eye allergies that should be treated and managed to improve their comfort.
Eye Exams: Part of your child’s medical care routine
Most parents will take their child for an eye test once and there after only if they notice symptoms of vision conditions in their child. 50% of parents falsely believe only children who need glasses need to go for regular eye exams. A child’s visual system is still developing in the primary school years and children are exposed to increased visual demands with every new grade. Eye strain with reading, cellphone use and computer work can lead to visual stress that will result in adaptations and a progression of near-sightedness .
By having regular eye exams, children with eye strain and other difficulties can be identified early and adverse effects like headaches, learning or behaviour problems can be prevented.
Children need a comprehensive eye exam even if they have passed a vision screening
Parents will often not schedule an eye exam because their child has passed a vision screening at school. Even if the screening was done more than a year ago parents are often still lulled in a false sense of security that their child has perfect vision.
What is the difference between a vision screening a comprehensive eye exam?
Screenings are quick while exams are comprehensive. Screenings are intended to identify children with obvious symptoms and to refer them for further assessment of vision and eye health. Comprehensive eye exams are much more effective at identifying problems with eyestrain and sustainability of visual comfort compared to a screening test.
How often should a child have an eye test?
According to the American Optometric Association, if your child has no symptoms and does not have any risk factors that increase his or her change of developing eye problems, he or she should receive eye exams at the following ages:
· At 6 months
· At 3 years
· Before the first grade and then every two years after.
Children who wear glasses or have any other eye condition should be tested annually. Those with reading or learning problems should have yearly comprehensive eye exams even if they do not wear spectacles to ensure that vision is not interfering with learning.
Eighty percent of everything children learn comes through the eyes. Children need to see clearly, they need to sustain visual comfort and they need to process and filter visual information to be able to read and learn efficiently.
- Parents cannot wait for children to say they are not seeing well, they do not know what “normal” vision is.
- Critical issues such as lazy eye, uneven vision, eye strain and dry eyes go unnoticed by parents
- These critical vision issues require early detection from an eye care practitioner to prevent learning problems and manage eye-strain and progression of shortsightedness.