Good eye health is important, in part, because 80 percent of what children learn is through their eyes.
The American Optometric Association recommends comprehensive eye exams occur between 6 months and 12 months, again at age 3, and before entering school at age 5 or 6.
The inability to see clearly can affect a child’s physical, emotional, and social development, which in turn can affect academic and athletic performance, and, ultimately, self-esteem.
Often children are unaware and won’t complain if their vision isn’t normal, so it’s important to look for signs of vision problems.
Also, remember that a school’s vision screening is not a substitute for a comprehensive eye exam. Screenings at school usually focus on acuity levels and can miss common conditions such as poor eye alignment, focusing problems, and farsightedness.
Schedule an appointment, especially if your child experiences any of the following:
1. Difficulty hitting or catching a ball
If your child regularly misses or drops the ball, it’s possible that vision impairment might be affecting hand-eye coordination. This could also be due to a lazy eye, otherwise known as amblyopia. Amblyopia is when one eye is favored over the other, which can affect depth perception, making it difficult to assess objects in front of you.
2. Squinting while reading or watching television
Ask your child if the text or screen is blurry or if reading gives them a headache. A “yes” answer could indicate an underlying vision problem.
3. Issues watching 3D movies
3D movies require eyes to work together as a team to process information, so difficulty viewing 3D content can be a sign of underlying vision issues. After watching a 3D movie, look to see if your child feels any discomfort or dizziness, or is unable to process 3D content.
Also, watch for digital eye strain, which is caused by prolonged use of computers, smartphones or tablets, and can cause symptoms such as sore, tired, watery or dry eyes, headache, or sore neck, shoulder, or back.
Help your child practice healthy vision habits by keeping computer screens at least 30 inches away from their eyes; resting their eyes every 20 minutes; and blinking frequently to avoid dry eyes. Practice the 20/20/20 rule: every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds and look at something 20 feet away.
A comprehensive eye exam can uncover other health conditions not usually associated with the eyes, including multiple sclerosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, elevated cholesterol, and Crohn’s disease.
Together with your child’s eye doctor, you can help make sure your child is ready for school and ready to learn.
Dr. Linda Chous is chief eye care officer for UnitedHealthcare.