At this time of year, with another school year blasting off across America, parents and students are scurrying around on a scavenger hunt for school supplies, shopping for new clothes, getting sports physicals and updating immunizations. Languishing in fifth place, or worse, on that list is a thorough eye examination, which is ironic, because without properly administered eye care, students can get lost in a visually-focused classroom.
School technology keeps changing in order to stay current with society, but the need for good eyesight free from lazy eye (amblyopia), crossed eyes (strabismus), color deficiency (color blindness) and refractive errors (nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism), as described by hap.org (Health Alliance Plan, Michigan) doesn't change.
"A lot of parents think the eye chart at the pediatrician's office is a suitable eye exam," Dr. Mark Perry, an Orlando ophthalmologist, tells orlandofamilymagazine.com. "I still see kids coming in at eight, nine or 10 years old that haven't had an eye exam. Sometimes, unfortunately, parents don't realize their child has poor vision until it becomes evident in school."
If a student can't see properly, whether his or her gaze be directed at a blackboard, a Smart Board or a smart phone, he or she is at a disadvantage when it comes to schoolwork and grades. "It is estimated that 80 percent of classroom education is taught visually," says friendsforsight.org. "The inability to see clearly affects academic and athletic performance, and self-esteem."
What better time to address children's visual health than August, dubbed Children's Eye Health and Safety Month by the American Academy of Ophthalmology? That care and concern should start early.
"At about six months of age, all infants should receive a comprehensive vision assessment even if no eye issues are apparent," eyeclinicofaustin.com states. "The assessment tests for eye health issues, eye movement ability, and excessive or unequal amounts of nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism. It’s vital to address any problems found because vision issues can often cause developmental delays."
Short of a thorough assessment by an eye care health professional, though, parents can be watching, and listening for, visual-problem tips from their children: eyes not lining up properly, red-rimmed or swollen eyes, the child rubbing his or her eyes frequently, closing or covering one eye, excessive blinking or squinting, proclamations of "My eyes are itchy" or "My eyes feel scratchy," or a statement of "I feel dizzy" following a stint of performing close-up work, according to ophthalmologytimes.modernmedicine.com.
Among the common causes of eye disorders are genetics, exposure to bacteria and medication side effects. The American National Standards Institute singles out another one: ultraviolet (UV) radiation, courtesy of the sun. We are taught to wear sunscreen to protect our skin from harmful sun's rays; likewise, a good pair of sunglasses are useful for protecting our eyes, and our kids' eyes, from the sun, especially during the summer months, assuming our kids haven’t sequestered themselves inside to stay glued to whatever screen has captured their fancy for the moment.
Preventing injuries to a child's eyes are as important a part of proper eye care as eye examinations and treatments, beyond just reading (or in some cases, memorizing) the eye chart. Consider the statistics: while more than 12 million children have impaired eyesight, says hap.org, "eye injuries are one of the leading causes of vision loss in children. There are an estimated 42,000 sports-related eye injuries each year [and that's just counting those requiring emergency-room treatment, orlandofamilymagazine.com adds], and the majority of them happen to children."
Experts have said that about 90 percent of those sustained eye injuries could have been prevented by protective eyewear, like that worn by handball, racquetball and squash players. In school sports, that kind of risk of eye injury from unforeseen contact with a ball or other sporting device can make a hazard out of baseball, softball, hockey, basketball, tennis, soccer, you name it.
National Eye Institute data indicates that a person suffering from an eye injury seeks hospital care every 13 minutes, the Orlando magazine also reports.
Good eye care complete with thorough assessments and proper protection? The eyes must have it.