With children returning to the classroom this fall, many parents, guardians, and caregivers are busy buying school supplies to set them up for a great school year. However, they may not be including one of the most important steps for ensuring children’s long-term success in their back-to-school prep list – an eye exam. An annual eye exam is especially critical following the significant increase in screen time throughout the 2020-21 school year. According to Megan Collins, MD, MPH, pediatric ophthalmologist at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute and member of Versant Health’s Medical Policy Council, some younger children who initially did not require glasses experienced a substantial change in their vision within the past year.
Because August is not only National Eye Exam Month, but also National Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month, National Vision and Learning Month and the start of back-to-school season, it’s the perfect time to learn some of the warning signs of vision issues in children and to schedule their annual eye exam.
Although as much as 80% of learning in the classroom is visual, fewer than 15% of preschool children receive an eye exam by a professional, according to the American Optometric Association. And while parents, guardians, and caregivers may think that vision screenings provided in schools are sufficient to detect vision issues in children, in actuality, 75% of school vision screenings miss vision problems.
Further, children often don’t recognize symptoms of vision issues like eye strain and, therefore, may not be able to tell parents, guardians, and caregivers if they are struggling to see. As children grow, their vision changes more quickly than an adult’s, which means that a vision issue can appear suddenly without parents, guardians, and caregivers noticing and have a significant impact on their academic, social, and athletic performance.
Below are a few warning signs that a child may be struggling with their vision:
- Constant eye rubbing
- Extreme light sensitivity
- Poor focusing
- Poor visual tracking (following an object)
- Abnormal alignment or movement of the eyes (after 6 months of age)
- Chronic redness or tearing of the eyes
- A white pupil instead of black
School-age children may also show warning signs like:
- Trouble reading the blackboard
- Difficulty reading due to confusion of similar words or persistent word reversal
- Sitting too close to a screen
- Behavioral problems arising from vision difficulties, such as avoiding reading, inattentiveness, short attention span for visual tasks, fatigue, and acting out
To ensure that vision is developing normally and to address any vision issues quickly, children should receive an eye exam before every school year. And if children present with any of these issues, it may be time to schedule them for an eye exam, even if they have already had one during an annual check-up.
There are also steps parents, guardians, and caregivers can take to help protect their children’s vision this school year. Actions like limiting screen time and wearing protective eyewear like sunglasses and sports goggles can all help to prevent eye damage.
Parents, guardians, and caregivers can play an active role in helping to preserve children’s vision health by monitoring vision changes, taking preventative steps to protect children’s eyes from damage, and taking their children for an annual eye exam. Because early detection and treatment are critical for correcting visual impairments, these steps can help set children up for success this school year.