August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month and reminds parents to schedule an eye exam and vision screening as children ready for back to school time.
As an extra nudge, it’s also an excellent time for parents to remind themselves about the warning signs of pink eye, or conjunctivitis. Viral and bacterial infections spread quickly in classrooms, so it’s best to be prepared.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests that good vision is the key to a child’s physical development, success in school, and overall well-being. According to the Academy, if a young child’s eyes cannot send clear images to the brain, his or her vision may become limited — and perhaps in ways that are unable to be corrected as they age. If problems are detected early, effective treatment may be possible.
Vision checks are an essential and critical part of a healthy routine from birth and through the school-age years. Often, vision screenings are provided at schools. But they are also quickly scheduled with a pediatrician or other qualified health professional. The American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus recommend the following exams:
- For newborns, a red reflex test is a primary indicator that the eyes are healthy. The Academy suggests that if a baby is premature or at high risk for medical problems, or has a family history of severe childhood vision disorders, a more comprehensive exam should be given.
- Infants should have a second screening between six months of age and one year.
- Preschoolers between the ages of 3 to 3 1/2 should have vision assessed by a pediatrician, ophthalmologist, or a person trained explicitly in eye assessments. When a child can follow directions to do an eye chart exam, that should be performed — this type of test checks whether a child can normally focus at far, middle and near distances. If the review identifies misaligned eyes, so-called lazy eyes, myopia, astigmatism, or other focusing problems, the child should have a comprehensive exam by an ophthalmologist.
- Children entering school should be screened for visual acuity and alignment. The Academy notes that nearsightedness is the most common refractive error in this age group and can be corrected with eyeglasses. If an alignment problem or other eye health issues is suspected, the child should have a comprehensive exam by an ophthalmologist.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology states that "in contrast to vision screening, a comprehensive eye exam can facilitate diagnosis of visual problems. It involves the use of eye drops to dilate the pupil, enabling a more thorough investigation of the overall health of the eye and the optical system." The American Academy of Ophthalmology advises parents to seek a comprehensive eye exam if:
- Their child fails a vision screening.
- Vision screening is inconclusive or cannot be performed.
- A pediatrician or school nurse refer you.
- Their child has a vision complaint or observed abnormal visual behavior, or is at risk for developing eye problems. Children are at higher risk for developing pediatric eye problems if they have a family history of down syndrome, prematurity, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, neurofibromatosis, amblyopia, strabismus, retinoblastoma, congenital cataracts, or congenital glaucoma.
- Their child has a learning disability, developmental delay, neuropsychological condition, or behavioral issue.