Early detection through comprehensive eye exams is key to maintaining your child’s vision.
With summer coming to a close, the time is right to act on basic health care services such as immunizations, physicals, and dental and eye exams. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), a child should have their first comprehensive eye exam at 6 months of age, another at 3 years of age, and again just before they enter kindergarten at age 5 or 6.
Why are these exams so important during a child’s early years? Its been estimated that up to 80 percent of a child’s learning is through their eyes. One of the first tools used to detect eye problems is a visual screening, which is done at the child’s school with a therapist, at the doctor’s office through their pediatrician or at a Sams Club in some states. I caution parents that although these screenings are done early, they’re not a replacement for a comprehensive eye exam by an optometrist. A complete eye examination includes a case history and tests for visual acuity, eye muscle movements, eye health and any supplemental testing the optometrist feels is necessary. The comprehensive exam is performed to reveal the more subtle problems that can go undiagnosed through a typical visual screening.
As parents, there are certain signs you should look for to express to your optometrist:
Birth to 1 year
Common signs may include constant or occasional eye turns, which can suggest muscle imbalance problems. This can later lead to reduced vision in one or both eyes. Tear overflow can suggest blocked tear ducts or also link to the appearance of a white pupil, which can suggest retinoblastoma, or cancer of the eye.
Age 1 to 5 or 6
A child’s common problems can include having difficulty tracking a moving target, short attention spans and not able to keep things or complete tasks in order. In addition, they may routinely attempt to close one eye while attempting to look out the other eye.
Age 6 and up
Common problems may include double vision, losing their place while reading, and headaches associated with schoolwork. Children at this age can also exhibit poor handwriting skills.
Maintaining a child’s vision is essential to maximizing their learning environment. Children commonly get diagnosed with dyslexia, a neurological condition in which the brain shows an inability to use verbal and hearing centers to decode print or make a connection between written symbols and sounds. Studies have shown that 75 percent of these children have some form of vision problem. Other conditions that commonly get diagnosed are attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Children diagnosed with these conditions or in the process of receiving a diagnosis tend to have problems with their eyes working together at close distances and should have a comprehensive eye exam by their optometrist.
I recommend annual eye exams for children over the age of 6. Talking with your kids prior to the exam will help them be prepared. In addition, parents are encouraged to ask the optometrist questions and work as a team to help the child get the best visual outcome. The earlier the detection, the better the outcome will be.
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