Back to School

As summer fun slowly fades away and the weather begins to change, the back to school season represents a fresh start for many families. For kids, it means new supplies, teachers and a return to earlier bedtimes. For parents, it means getting back into a routine, not only for their children, but for themselves as well.

One part of that routine is to schedule annual checkups for their children before school starts. While in many school districts, annual physicals are required to update vaccination records and clear children for participation in sports, it is also a great time to schedule other check-ups too, including comprehensive eye exams.

Just like eating healthy and exercising, taking care of children’s eyes can be critically important to their overall health. According to the CDC, “People with vision problems are more likely than those with good vision to have diabetes, poor hearing, heart problems, high blood pressure, lower back pain and strokes, as well as have increased risk for falls, injury and depression.” Unlike physical injuries or other illnesses, children may not recognize they are having vision issues and may not be as likely to bring these types of issues to your attention.

The Difference Between General and Comprehensive Vision Exams for Kids

While a child’s eyes may be quickly examined during a physical or at school, it’s important to also get a comprehensive exam done by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), up to 75% of school vision screenings miss vision problems.

While in-school vision tests are encouraged, they have many limitations, such as the type of equipment that can be used. Unlike an eye doctor’s office, the equipment available for an in-school vision exam must be able to be transported to and from the school. In addition, while their efforts are valuable , those performing the screenings are typically school nurses or even volunteers. As far as scope, many in-school screenings are only intended to catch issues of visual acuity, such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, or delay.

Scheduling an appointment for children to undergo a comprehensive vision exam is important for several reasons, primarily because they are completed by trained professionals able to accurately diagnose and treat any eye disease or vision issue. During the exam, the doctor will also have access to more advanced and specialized equipment. Finally, unlike a school eye exam, the doctor will have the benefit of parental input on family history or symptoms of concern.

How Often Should Children Get an Eye Exam

Finding the right doctor [link to “Finding a Physician” KC blog when it is live] that is both knowledgeable and someone you feel comfortable with, is very important. By building a relationship and returning to them regularly for annual eye exams, the optometrist or ophthalmologist will be better able to monitor your child’s eye health over time. That context and perspective will make it easier for them to notice if something looks different or may be cause for concern.

Children 6 to 18 years old who do not exhibit any concerning symptoms or risks should be examined every two years, according to recommendations. However, children who exhibit any of a variety of risk factors should have a comprehensive pediatric eye exam annually.

Important Symptoms to Look Out For

When you do bring your child to the doctor for a comprehensive vision exam, be sure to bring any of the following symptoms to the attention of the doctor, as they may be signs of underlying vision issues.

      • Irritation: Dry eyes or frequent rubbing may be symptoms of underlying vision issues, allergies, or excessive screen time.
      • Attention Issues: In some cases, vision issues can be misdiagnosed as learning disabilities like ADD, because of the distraction they cause children.
      • Headaches: Although sometimes entirely unrelated to vision, headaches can be caused by eye strain or be an indicator of something more serious.

Why Back to School Eye Exams Are Important

For most children, good vision is key to a good school year. In the classroom, being able to see is crucial for many activities, including seeing the board, reading books, and staying focused. According to specialists, 80% of what children learn in school is taught visually, and untreated vision troubles can put children at a substantial disadvantage.

Outside of the classroom, good vision and eye health can be just as important to your child’s quality of life, including on the playground and in many sports and activities that require strong visual skills.

You can learn more about your state’s requirements for vision screenings or mandated eye exams for children here.

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