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Press Releases Pennsylvania Optometric Association
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media Contacts:
Deborah Blanchard
O: 717-233-6455
Deb@poaeyes.org

Ready for School

Back-to-School Checklist: Backpack, Computer, Wireless Access…and a Comprehensive Eye Exam

Download a Microsoft Word version of the press release

HARRISBURG, Pa. (August 15, 2013) - Computers and smartboards are a common staple in today's classrooms. With programs such as "bring your own device" (BYOD) to school, smartphones and tablets are increasingly being used in schools as well. As these devices transition between home and the classroom, the use of these technologies is evolving from a trend to a necessity, even among the youngest students. According to the American Optometric Association's (AOA) 2013 American Eye-Q® survey, 85 percent of parents indicate their children use an electronic device up to four hours per day.

This is no surprise as the survey also indicates 41 percent of children have their own smartphone or tablet and 32 percent use both e-books and textbooks at school. Additionally, 66 percent of children use a computer or tablet to do homework or study. With the consistent use of electronic devices throughout the day and evening, children of all ages can face a number of visual challenges. When children stare at screens for hours each day, it may cause visual discomfort that can interfere with their ability to focus and learn.

Despite the increase in technology use, only one-third (31 percent) of parents have strong concerns that their children may damage their eyes as a result of prolonged exposure. Although ongoing use won't damage vision, regular, lengthy use of technology at school or for homework can lead to a temporary vision condition called computer vision syndrome (CVS). Symptoms of CVS can include eye strain, headaches, fatigue, burning or tired eyes, loss of focus, blurred vision, double vision or head and neck pain.

The Pennsylvania Optometric Association (POA) urges students to rest their eyes by following the 20-20-20 rule. When using technology or doing near work, take a 20-second break, every 20 minutes and view something 20 feet away.

As children of all ages become more frequent users of technology, eye doctors are increasingly warning parents about the potential signs or symptoms of CVS or undiagnosed vision problems that may arise and indicate the need for an eye exam:

  • Preschool and Kindergarten: At home, little ones may begin to play games on a tablet or smartphone, while at school they tend to learn early lessons about how to use a computer. The AOA suggests limiting tech time to two hours or less each day and increasing the font size of the text on the screen in order to make it easier on eyes. During this stage, parents should be aware of physical signs that may flag a potential vision problem and ask themselves the following questions:
    • Are my child's eyes aligned properly or does one or both eyes turn inward or outward?
    • Does my child frequently rub his or her eyes or blink excessively when doing near work?
    • Does my child experience difficulty recognizing colors, shapes, letters and numbers?
  • Elementary School: At this age, children continue to use smartphones, play with portable gaming devices, and spend hours on computers at school and at home. Encourage kids to use cell phones only for quick tasks such as texting, and to position all devices half an arm's length away from the eyes and slightly below eye level. Children should also take frequent breaks and move around or change positions often while working on a computer. Parents of this age group should ask children and themselves the following questions to learn more about the health of their vision:
    • Do words seem to "swim" on a screen or in a printed book or do they lose their place frequently when reading?
    • Does my child experience frequent headaches during the school week or while performing close up visual work?
    • Are my child's grades high in non-visual classes and lower in other, more visually-focused classes like math or reading?
  • Middle and High School: With computers becoming a staple at school and for homework, along with increased smartphone usage, middle and high schoolers should be reminded that computers should be positioned 20 to 28 inches away from their eyes, and the top of the screen should be at eye level, allowing them to look down at the screen. When at home, kids should use ergonomic desk areas or gaming chairs and to prevent glare on screens, incorporate low-wattage light bulbs or drapes in the room. As for digital devices, brightness or background color settings should be adjusted to keep vision comfortable. Parents can stay involved with their older children's vision by knowing:
    • How long can my child read before they need to take a visual break?
    • Does my child perform with a lowered level of comprehension or efficiency?
    • Does my child experience discomfort, fatigue or have a short attention span?

Eye doctors look for a variety of indicators using various tests and instruments during a comprehensive eye exam. Parents also play an important role by alerting their eye doctor of certain behaviors and warning signs that may indicate a problem between eye exams.

Additional warning signs parents should watch out for include:

  • Squints while reading or watching television
  • Turns or tilts head or covers an eye
  • Consistently performs below potential or struggles to complete homework
  • Has behavioral problems

POA also warns that one in four children has an undiagnosed vision problem simply because they may not recognize that their eyesight isn't optimal or is changing.

Comprehensive eye exams are one of the most important investments a parent can make to maximize their child's education and contribute to overall health and well-being, especially since some vision problems may not have warning signs. Unfortunately, parents and educators often incorrectly assume that if a child passes a school screening, their vision is fine.

Beginning in 2014, pediatric vision care will be one of the Affordable Care Act's Essential Health Benefits. This means millions of children will gain direct access to local optometrists for comprehensive eye exams and treatment, including medical eye care, through health insurance. POA recommends that a child's first eye exam take place at six months of age. Unless problems are detected, exams should then be given at age three, again before a child enters kindergarten and yearly thereafter. To find an optometrist in your area, or for additional information on children's vision and the importance of back-to-school eye exams, please visit www.poaeyes.org.

 

About the American Eye-Q® survey:

The eighth annual American Eye-Q® survey was created and commissioned in conjunction with Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates (PSB). From March 15-18, 2013 using an online methodology, PSB interviewed 1,000 Americans 18 years and older who embodied a nationally representative sample of U.S. general population. (Margin of error at 95 percent confidence level)

About the Pennsylvania Optometric Association (POA):
The Pennsylvania Optometric Association is the professional organization for over 1,250 doctors of optometry in Pennsylvania. An affiliate of the American Optometric Association, POA promotes the highest quality eye and vision care by optometrists, represents optometry to state government, provides its members with post-graduate education and membership benefits, and conducts activities in the interest of the visual welfare of the public. For more information, visit www.poaeyes.org.

About the American Optometric Association (AOA):

The American Optometric Association represents approximately 36,000 doctors of optometry, optometry students and paraoptometric assistants and technicians. Optometrists serve patients in nearly 6,500 communities across the country, and in 3,500 of those communities are the only eye doctors. Doctors of optometry provide two-thirds of all primary eye care in the United States.

American Optometric Association doctors of optometry are highly qualified, trained doctors on the frontline of eye and vision care who examine, diagnose, treat and manage diseases and disorders of the eye. In addition to providing eye and vision care, optometrists play a major role in a patient's overall health and well-being by detecting systemic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

Prior to optometry school, optometrists typically complete four years of undergraduate study, culminating in a bachelor's degree. Required undergraduate coursework for pre-optometry students is extensive and covers a wide variety of advanced health, science and mathematics. Optometry school consists of four years of post-graduate, doctoral study concentrating on both the eye and systemic health. In addition to their formal training, doctors of optometry must undergo annual continuing education to stay current on the latest standards of care. For more information, visit www.aoa.org.

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