While a parent’s back-to-school list is dominated with purchasing new school clothes, backpacks and school supplies, the Eye Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (EPSO) are reminding parents not to forget one of the most important learning tools: their children’s eyes.
Eighty percent of preschoolers don’t receive a proper visual assessment. Though most children have healthy eyes, many school-aged children have vision problems, and almost all of these issues can be detected with an age appropriate comprehensive eye examination. As an example, a child can be legally blind in one eye and may still appear to function absolutely normal. The earlier that vision problems are identified: the sooner they can be addressed.
The Eye Physician and Surgeons of Ontario recommend the following four tips.
- Get regular childhood eye examinations – Eye examinations start when your child is born. At every infant visit, a visual screening examination should be performed by your health care provider, family doctor or paediatrician. By the time your child is preschool age (between three and three and a half years) and can speak, they should have a formal visual assessment.OHIP covers annual eye exams for children up to 19 years old, yet only only 14 per cent of Canadian children under the age of six have had a comprehensive eye exam before entering their first year of school.
- Watch for signals of eye problems – Parents should be alert to symptoms that could indicate an eye or vision problem. Some things to watch out for include sitting too close to the television, complaining of headaches, poor hand-eye coordation, or difficulties reading. Another symptom may be an inability to maintain eye alignment. If your child’s eyes are constantly misaligned: crossed in, or turned up or out, you should see an eye care practitioner as soon as possible. If your child is “winking”, not blinking in bright sunlight, this could also be a sign of an eye misalignment. A more visible indication of an eye problem is an abnormal white colouring in the pupil or nystagmus (eyes “jiggling” back and forth). If you feel your baby cannot see, consult with your eye care practitioner immediately.
- Know and share your family eye health history – Everyone should find out whether eye conditions or diseases run in their family. Parents should share that information with the person performing the vision assessment. Various eye conditions can have a genetic component, such as strabismus (eye muscle misalignment), amblyopia (lazy eye) and childhood cataracts. If conditions such as these are treated early, often permanent vision loss can be avoided.
- Wear protective eyewear when playing sports – Eye injuries while playing sports can cause serious damage, whether by getting hit by an elbow during basketball or with a hockey stick. If your child plays soccer, racquet sports, ice hockey including shinny hockey, field hockey, baseball or basket ball, consider having them wear sports goggles or other certified protective eye wear. If your child already wears prescription glasses, consider purchasing prescription sports goggles, so that if your child does get hit in the eye, the regular glass frames will not damage their face.
“It can never be too early to examine a child’s eye, but it can be too late. We need to be more proactive in preserving our children’s vision. An eye exam is an essential step to provide the best vision possible for a child to succeed in school.” advises Dr. Jordan Cheskes, President of the Eye Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.