Pens and pencils, notebooks and glue sticks are always on the back-to-school supply list; however, parents shouldn’t overlook one of the most important tools for classroom success – your child’s eyes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports about 7 percent of all children have a diagnosed vision condition. Sadly, though, some children slip under the radar with undiagnosed disorders, leading to frustration in school, trouble with reading and paying attention. Only one in three children in America receives eye-care services before their sixth birthday.
The relationship between vision and learning is crucial, says Dr. Matthew Gearinger, pediatric ophthalmologist at the Flaum Eye Institute at URMC. We asked him to discuss proper eye health and share some tips to help parents spot warning signs.
Scripts: How often should children have their eyes examined?
Gearinger: A vision screening is usually included in the annual well-child checkup. This is important for children of all ages. If a pediatrician identifies a problem, he or she will recommend the child sees an eye doctor, or ophthalmologist.
Scripts: We’ve heard that a few seemingly innocuous behaviors might signal that a child’s vision is changing. What are the common, early signs that a child may need glasses?
Gearinger: Squinting, tilting the head, and sitting too close to the television are very common. Let me explain the trouble with each of these behaviors. Squinting is much like looking through a pinhole. Peeking through a hole reduces the size of a blurred image on the back of the retina and temporarily improves vision. So, squinting is a way of compensating for poor vision.
Tilting the head to one side can be a sign of an eye muscle imbalance or strabismus. Some children experience double vision when they look down or in a certain direction, and tilting the head minimizes the double vision. Sitting too close to the TV or lowering the head while reading is often a sign of nearsightedness. This is when people have clear vision at a close range but poor vision at a distance.
Scripts: Should parents be concerned if children frequently rub or cover their eyes?
Gearinger: Yes, because this is a sign of eye fatigue, which is related to many types of vision problems. Common complaints such as allergic conjunctivitis – usually a reaction to pollen that causes itchy and swollen eyes – can lead to vision impairment and should not be ignored.
In addition, when you see a child covering one eye to look at something – this could be a sign of something more serious. A child who covers one eye to read is simply shutting off the eye with the poorer vision so that it doesn’t interfere with sight. But an uncorrected vision problem in one eye can increase a child’s risk of developing amblyopia. Covering one eye can also be a sign of double vision caused by strabismus or a more serious but common medical problem, such as a cataract, which can be fixed.
Scripts: Once a child begins to read, are there more symptoms that teachers and parents should discuss?
Gearinger: Absolutely. The three most common things to watch for are headaches, losing their place while reading, and finger-pointing while reading. A child with uncorrected farsightedness will often get frontal headaches or brow aches. The pain is a result of exerting extra effort to clear blurry vision.
Skipping lines or losing your place while reading can indicate astigmatism or an eye muscle problem. Finger pointing while reading isn’t always a bad sign – we often see it as children learn to read independently. However, it can indicate an uncorrected problem such as amblyopia, where the eyes exhibit a crowding phenomenon. Letters or words seem very close together, making them difficult to recognize.
And one final thought: At the end of a long day, some children’s eyelids don’t completely close while sleeping. This is a condition called lag ophthalmus, which causes the eyes to dry out at night and excessive tearing during the daytime. The extra tears can interfere with good vision.
For more information about eye health, go the Flaum Eye Institute or call (585) 273-EYES (3937) to make an appointment.
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