What You Should Know About Your Child's Eye Health

Make eye care a priority

Now is the time to have your child’s vision checked. And recent changes to health benefit plans makes it easy.

Undiagnosed vision problems among school-age children have led to greater access to annual comprehensive eye exams. Now, under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), vision care for children is covered by many health plans as an essential benefit (not under separate vision plans). What’s more, it’s not limited to vision screenings.

Memphis Parent magazine spoke to Dr. Marie Bodack, chief of pediatric primary care services at the Southern College of Optometry to find out more about this essential health benefit.

What should parents know about the new pediatric optometric care benefit that took effect January 1?
Dr. Marie Bodack: The pediatric vision care benefit includes coverage for regular comprehensive eye exams and is included in the overall health plan. Coverage includes follow-up care when needed, and in many cases, eyeglasses. Children from birth to 18 are covered.

What is the difference between vision screening and a vision examination?
Generally, vision screenings involve testing for the clarity of distance vision and sometimes, the presence of an eye turn. A comprehensive eye examination goes further, checking eye teaming, tracking and focusing, vision skills important for school.

NOTE: The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends that children receive an eye exam at 6 months, age 3, before entering first grade, and every one to two years thereafter.

AOA estimates nearly 25 percent of school-age children have vision problems. Can you describe these?
Children may have blurry vision, eyestrain, or headaches caused by vision problems. Blurry vision may cause your child to squint or hold books or tablets at different distances to see more clearly. If your child has eyestrain or headaches that arise from reading or while on the computer, he may avoid doing close work.

 For kids who play sports, seeing clearly at a variety of distances is important. Events like a concussion can lead to headaches and double vision. Glare from the sun can also affect an athlete’s performance. Parents should look for lenses that block close to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays. 

According to the National Institute of Health, every 13 minutes an ER in the U.S. treats a sports-related eye injury. Since most eye injuries occur in children ages 11 to 14, protective eyewear such as goggles or a helmet-mounted eye/face shield is important.

Can you share some important safety tips for maintaining good eye health?
“Pink eye” or conjunctivitis is commonly passed among school-aged children, and can be caused by allergies, bacteria, or a virus. In all cases, children will have the telltale red eye, but an eye doctor can help with diagnosis and treatment. Regular hand washing and keeping hands away from eyes will keep this at bay. 

More than 75 percent of classroom learning comes via visual pathways. What are some visual skills (beyond seeing clearly) children need for academic success?
Acuity measures how clearly you see. Acuity is what is tested when you have an eye exam and read the distance chart. Perfect vision is 20/20 acuity. In addition to acuity, the following visual skills are important for academic success:
• Accommodation (focusing): The ability to maintain a clear image when reading up close.  Symptoms could include blurry vision or red eyes when reading.
• Convergence (eye teaming): The ability for the eyes to aim at the appropriate distance when reading.  The most common problem is convergence insufficiency. Symptoms include double vision or words moving when reading. In some cases an eye turn may be noticed.
• Tracking: The ability for the eyes to move from word to word when reading.  Symptoms include loss of place when reading, using a finger to keep place when reading, or problems copying from the board.
• Visual-Motor Integration (eye-hand coordination):  The ability for the hands to copy what the eyes see.  Symptoms include sloppy handwriting, not staying on the line when writing.
• Auditory-Visual Integration:  The ability to see what the ears hear.  Symptoms include problems writing words or sounds correctly.
• Visual Processing Problems:  When we read, we put letters together to make words, get a mental picture of the words (and story), and understand it. These skills are important when learning to read and problems can exist even in children with 20/20 vision. Children who have difficulties with visual processing may also have problems with reading comprehension, remembering spelling words, and recognizing words.

 AOA’s 2014 Ready-for-School public awareness campaign contains recommendations for avoiding digital eye-strain due to technology use and includes the 20-20-20 rule. What are some growing concerns about children being exposed to electronic devices?
Many children report using electronic devices at least three hours a day, which is more than what parents estimate. When looking at a screen, children often hold it at a closer distance than they hold a book or paper, which can cause additional strain on the focusing system of the eye. If a child has a problem with the focusing or eye teaming system, he or she might get headaches, double vision, blurred vision, or red eyes when using the device. When people use digital devices, studies have found that they do not blink as frequently as expected.

Blinking helps to keep the ocular surface lubricated.  The decrease in blinking can cause dryness or red eyes.
Children should take screen breaks. The 20-20-20 rule reminds us to take a 20 second break every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away!

• For more information, visit The Eye Center at Southern College of Optometry at tec.sco.edu or call 722-3250

The Infant See Program is a public health program sponsored by Optometry Cares, the AOA Foundation.  It provides one-time, no cost, eye and vision assessment for babies 6 to 12 months of age. Read our story here or go to infantsee.org


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