By: Gabby Dance

August is here, which means back-to-school season is quickly approaching. Scheduling an eye exam appointment for your child may be the last thing on your mind, but it is just as important as school supply shopping to prepare them for the upcoming academic year. August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month, making this the perfect time to make sure your child has healthy vision.

The majority of information in a typical classroom is taught visually, making eye health extremely important for your child’s success. Not being able to see the whiteboard or read information from a textbook can hinder the learning process, causing your child to fail assignments and fall behind in class. In addition, vision problems can negatively affect self-esteem.

The key to making sure your child maintains quality eye health is to catch any problems early. As babies and toddlers, children should visit the doctor to monitor eye development at 6 months, 12 months and 3 years of age. Once they reach school age, visits to the eye doctor should be scheduled annually or as recommended. 

A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE

For mom Tracy Conner, a routine doctor’s visit made a big difference in her daughter’s future eyesight. Her daughter Emma was diagnosed with esotropia, a type of strabismus, at 12 months old. Strabismus, an eye disorder where the eyes appear crossed and do not look in the same direction at the same time, is very common in children, and can be detrimental if left untreated. Symptoms of strabismus include blurry vision, poor depth perception and eye strain.

After trying special glasses with no success, Emma had to wear an eye patch for several months to train her weak eye into working. This treatment, though not enjoyed by Emma, was crucial to her recovery. If the weak eye is not trained to be able to focus on things and function, the brain eventually shuts it down, resulting in blindness in that eye.

Today, she is 11 years old and lives like any normal child. The care she received helped her to now excel at softball, something she could not have done without undergoing treatment. 

“It’s important to make sure that kids get any eye conditions treated while they’re growing up,” said Conner. “Even though we don’t think of them as a large organ in our body, our eyes affect everything we do. The difference between getting treatment or not can change your life completely.”

THE SIGNALS

Children are often unaware that they have vision problems because they assume that everyone else sees things the same way they do. Therefore, your child most likely won’t tell you if they’re experiencing vision problems. The most common symptoms that signal vision problems in children include squinting, recurring headaches, sudden disinterest in reading or viewing distant objects, tilting or turning their head to look at things, lazy or crossed eyes, rubbing their eyes and squeezing their eyes. Family history of vision problems should also be kept in mind. If your child displays any of these signs, you should schedule them an appointment immediately. But be aware, many children who have eye problems do not show any noticeable symptoms.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

There are plenty of ways to promote eye health outside of the doctor’s office and in between visits. Many schools have switched to using computers and iPads for work, and staring at a screen for too long can tire the eyes, eventually leading to deteriorated eyesight. After a long day of school, encourage your child to put away their phone and step away from the television screen for a while to give their eyes a break. A great way to do this is by encouraging your child to join after school clubs or sports teams. If that’s not an option, take your child for a walk, have them play outside or let them take a quick nap to recharge.

Another important, yet often ignored, tool for healthy eyes is a good pair of sunglasses. Encouraging your child to wear sunglasses outdoors can protect their eyes from harmful UV rays. Make sure to choose a pair that blocks out 99 or 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays.

If your child plays sports, they should also be wearing the appropriate protective eye gear during practices and games. Sports related eye injuries are common in children, and can even cause permanent damage.

Grade schools are also well known for their spread of bacteria, so it is important to remind your child to wash their hands regularly and avoid touching or rubbing their eyes. Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, causes millions of students to miss school every year, and can be avoided by simply keeping hands clean and away from the face.

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