Don’t blink – but summer’s almost over and the mad dash to get our children ready for school is in full swing.
While you’re filling up your shopping cart with notebooks, pens and pencils, and new clothes, be sure your back-to-school to-do list includes a vision check for your child. It’s one of the best things you can do to help your student prepare for classroom success. Pediatric eye specialist Dr. Benjamin Hammond discusses vision problems common in children and the importance of a professional eye exam.
Surprisingly, nearly 10 percent of children have an undiagnosed vision problem and only a third of them have visited an eye doctor before starting kindergarten. Undiagnosed vision disorders can lead to a frustrated child who doesn’t enjoy or excel in school. Poor vision may even be mistaken for a behavioral problems or a learning disability.
These seemingly harmless behaviors may be signs of changes in your child’s vision:
- Squinting while watching TV or reading. Squinting is much like looking through a pinhole, which reduces the size of a blurred image on the back of the retina. This temporarily improves vision and may be a sign that your child is compensating for poor vision.
- Tilting the head. A child may have double vision when looking down or in a certain direction. Tilting the head to one side may minimize the double vision to a more manageable level.
- Sitting too close to the TV. How many times do you remind your child to back away from the TV? If your child is always inching closer to the screen, it may be a sign that he or she is nearsighted.
- Covering one eye. Your child is simply blocking the eye with the poorer vision so it does not interfere with their vision. An uncorrected problem in one eye can increase risk of developing amblyopia, which is commonly called “lazy eye.” Covering one eye can also be a sign of double vision caused by strabismus (misalignment of the eyes in which one or both eyes may turn inward, outward, up or down) or a more serious but correctable medical problem, such as a cataract.
- Rubbing eyes repeatedly. Eye-rubbing can be a sign of eye fatigue or another vision or medical problems, including allergic conjunctivitis (a reaction to an allergen such as pollen, that causes itching and swelling in the eyes).
- Getting headaches when reading. Uncorrected farsightedness can cause frontal headaches or brow aches that can be caused when a child exerts extra effort to clear their blurry vision.
- Light sensitivity. Children with exotropia, a type of strabismus where they eyes turn outward, occasionally squint one eye when exposed to bright sunlight. This may be interpreted as light sensitivity.
- Losing their place while reading. If your child is reading aloud and skips lines or loses their place, it may be a sign of astigmatism or an eye muscle problem such as strabismus. If they rely on their finger to read independently, it could be a sign of amblyopia. This is a condition where words and letters may appear very close, or crowded, making them difficult to recognize.
Help your child to be happy and successful at school by having his or her vision checked regularly.
Benjamin Hammond, M.D., is a pediatric ophthalmologist with URMC’s Flaum Eye Institute, providing care in the Rochester and Geneva offices. He is an investigator with the Pediatric Eye Disease Investigator Group, a national organization committed to improving the eye health of children.
To schedule a check-up for your child, call 585-273-EYES (3937).