Don’t Forget About Your Child’s Vision Health When Heading Back to School

young girl getting an eye exam

The first day of the 2018-2019 school year is just around the corner and Danny Ngo, OD, an optometrist at the Kaiser Permanente Baldwin Park Medical Center, wants to encourage parents to add their child’s vision health to their back-to-school checklist.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, less than 15 percent of preschool children get an eye exam and less than 22 percent receive vision screening.

photo of Danny Ngo, OD

Danny Ngo, OD

Good vision is essential for a student’s academic success, physical development and overall well-being. When a child is having vision problems, he or she is more likely to have trouble concentrating, issues completing schoolwork, and may suffer headaches that can also impact mood.

The American Optometric Association recommends babies have their first comprehensive eye exam at six months of age. Children should receive additional eye exams at 3 years of age, just before first grade, and every two years thereafter, depending on the child. In contrast to a vision screening performed during a well-child visit, a comprehensive eye exam can fully evaluate vision problems, diagnose ocular disease, even identify medical conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.

Many vision problems have no obvious symptoms or signs. Furthermore, children often are not able to articulate that they are having vision problems, even if they exist. So, no matter the child’s age, it’s important for parents to take notice of possible issues. Here are some tips to help parents spot eye problems in children:

  • Frequent squinting
  • Looking out one eye
  • Tilting head to one side to see
  • Frequent headaches
  • Eye turning in or out, or “lazy” eye
  • Holding reading materials too close to face
  • Losing their place when reading
  • Avoids reading or has difficulty reading

Fortunately, there are many things parents can do to help protect their child’s vision health:

  • Children, teens, even toddlers, should wear sun glasses with UVA/UVB protection.
  • Make sure they are not looking too closely at the TV or mobile screens.
  • Blink often to refresh eyes and take regular breaks from the computer screen. Limit leisure screen time to no more than 60 minutes a day.
  • Ensure good lighting for close-up work.
  • Prevent eye strain by teaching the 20-20-20 vision rule: Every 20 minutes look 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
  • Boost their eye health with nutrition. Eat green veggies like broccoli, kale and spinach. Blueberries and cantaloupe can help keep the retina healthy, and fish and omega 3s can help dry eyes.
  • If your child is active in sports, consult with an optometrist about protective eyewear such as goggles.
  • If your teen wears contact lenses, make sure he or she keeps them clean and takes them off every night. Follow your eye care provider’s instruction on when to dispose of contacts. Most contact lenses are disposed daily, biweekly, or monthly.

Remember that your child’s vision is an important developmental tool. Talk to your child’s pediatrician about his or her vision health and make sure you prioritize eye exams with optometrists or ophthalmologists. To learn more about your child’s vision health, please visit kp.org.