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Healthy Eyes for Back to School

  • Written by Dr. Linda Chous, chief eye care officer, UnitedHealthcare

The beginning of the school year is a good time to get children’s eyes checked. Children face unique eye health challenges, including injury, infection, reading difficulties and nearsightedness.

According to the American Optometric Association, 80 percent of what a child learns is through his or her eyes. The inability to see clearly can affect a child’s physical, mental and social development, which in turn can affect academic and athletic performance and, ultimately, self-esteem. Many times a child is unaware and won’t complain if their vision isn’t normal. Early detection of vision problems is crucial, as untreated vision problems can impair development, affect learning and possibly lead to permanent vision loss.

As you plan back-to-school immunizations, shopping and class orientation, schedule an appointment for your child to receive a comprehensive eye examination. It’s also important to look for these signs of possible vision problems:

• 3D movies: 3D movies require eyes to process information as a team, so difficulty viewing 3D content can be a sign of underlying vision issues. After watching a 3D movie, look for these “3D” signs of vision problems: discomfort, dizziness and the inability to appreciate 3D content. If your child shows or talks about any of these signs, head to the eye doctor.

• 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 be an indication of an underlying vision problem.

• Difficulty hitting or catching a ball: If your child regularly misses or drops the ball, schedule an eye exam. 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.

Another factor that can affect your child’s eye health – and adult eye health – is digital eye strain, which is caused by frequent or prolonged use of computers, smartphones or tablets. Help your child practice healthy vision habits by keeping computer screens and tablets about 30 inches away from their eyes, resting their eyes every 20 minutes; and blinking frequently. Also, it’s good to practice the 20/20/20 rule: every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds and look at something 20 feet away.

Remember that a school’s vision screening does not look for the same problems that a comprehensive eye exam does. A child’s first comprehensive eye exam should occur between 6 months and 12 months, again at age 3 and before entering school at age 5 or 6. A visit to an eye health professional can help detect conditions such as crossed eyes (strabismus), lazy eye, nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism early, before visual development and learning is affected. Treatment may include glasses, patching and/or eye exercises.

For adults and children, a comprehensive eye exam also can uncover other health conditions not usually associated with the eyes, including multiple sclerosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, elevated cholesterol and Crohn’s disease. A recent study by UnitedHealthcare found that 6 percent of these chronic conditions were first identified by eye care doctors. For some diseases, including multiple sclerosis and diabetes, eye care professionals identified 15 percent of study participants diagnosed with those chronic conditions.

Make an appointment for your child now as part of this year’s back-to-school routine. In partnership with your child’s eye doctor, you can make sure your child is ready for school and ready to learn.

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