Back-to-school season is a flurry of activity: buying school clothes, stocking up on pencils and erasers and getting a checkup with the pediatrician. But be sure to add another item to the back-to-school checklist, a comprehensive eye exam.
A child's eyes go through rapid changes, especially in the first six years of life. But fewer than 15% of preschool children receive an eye exam by a professional, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while vision screenings have become ubiquitous in schools across the country, they aren't enough. School vision screenings miss up to 75% of children with vision problems. And 61% of the children found to have eye problems through screenings never visit the doctor or get help.
Vision problems are very common among school-age children. These issues are often easy to treat, sometimes requiring little more than a pair of prescription glasses. But if vision problems aren’t addressed, it can have lasting effects on your child’s success in school, personal relationships, and confidence in engaging in normal activities.
Refractive errors such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism are the most common causes of vision problems among school-age kids. These refractive errors can usually be corrected with a pair of prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses.
Refractive errors change the way light registers inside the eye, but other childhood eye conditions can affect the way the eyes move together.
Between 5% and 10% of school-age children are thought to have eye teaming or focusing problems.
Between 5% and 15% of school-age children are affected by a learning disorder. About 80% of these are reading disorders, like dyslexia. Nearly 1 in 10 school-age children have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
These conditions are not vision disorders themselves, but they can coexist with certain eye problems.
Convergence insufficiency is one of these problems. It’s notorious for causing attention problems that are easy to mistake for ADHD, and is three times more common in people with ADHD than those without.
In addition to visual symptoms like blurry or double vision, convergence insufficiency can cause attention problems that include:
- Difficulty holding concentration
- Difficulty keeping place while reading
- Reading slowly
Fortunately, treatment for convergence insufficiency is usually very effective and can help a child regain their attention.
For all of these reasons the American Optometric Association recommends children receive comprehensive eye exams on a regular schedule that begins in infancy:
- A comprehensive baseline eye exam between the ages of 6 months and 12 months
- At least one comprehensive eye exam between the ages of 3 and 5 to check for any conditions that could have long-term effects
- An annual, comprehensive eye exam starting before first grade