All about your eyes: School performance related to vision

As the end of summer vacation approaches, parents and students have back-to-school in mind. One of the most important ways to ensure a successful school year is to make your children’s sight a priority.

If you have never had a vision problem, you probably do not give much thought to your eyes, or to your children’s. After all, young eyes are healthy, right? Not necessarily. According to the Vision Council of America, 1 in 4 school-aged children has a vision problem that can interfere with learning, behavior and physical coordination. This is significant because 80 percent of the information a child learns in the first 12 years of school is presented visually. Understandably, normal vision is beneficial for students to reach their full academic and athletic potential.

Digital technology has become an integral part of children’s lives. Some Duluth-area schools even supply IPads to students. While advances in technology may help enhance learning, many digital devices are still relatively new, and the long-term effects on young eyes are still being determined. It has been shown that children have trouble falling asleep when they use a computer or electronic device before bedtime.

Children who spend a lot of time engaged in near activities (reading, using hand-held electronics, etc.) have a greater risk of becoming nearsighted because of the overuse of the eye’s focusing system. Conversely, spending more time outdoors may lower the risk of childhood myopia. Sunlight may trigger the production of the brain chemical dopamine, which prevents the eyeball from elongating. Myopic eyes are physically longer than eyes that have natural 20/20 vision at distance and are at higher risk of retinal detachment because of the elongation. (Tell your kids to go outside and play.)

Too often, a child who cannot see well is misdiagnosed with an unrelated behavioral problem because they are easily distracted from their out-of-focus studies. This misdiagnosis then can start a frustrating chain of events for parents and children, from unnecessary doctor visits and special classes to medications, when in reality, the true solution might be right before their eyes: a simple pair of glasses.

Because vision and learning are intimately related, legislation has been passed to help kids succeed in school. The Affordable Care Act mandates that all insurance carriers include coverage for comprehensive eye examinations with an eye doctor for children ages 18 and younger.

A comprehensive eye exam should not be confused with vision screenings at school, the primary doctor’s office or the DMV. These screenings help identify people at risk of vision problems but cannot provide the same level of eye care and diagnosis that a comprehensive eye exam can. A 2009 study by the National Eye Institute found that even the most sophisticated vision screenings miss a third of vision disorders.

Remember, your child will not complain that they have a vision problem — they assume everyone sees the way they do. Keep an eye out for these symptoms or behaviors to spot a problem with your child’s vision:

  • Avoiding or not liking reading
  • Squinting their eyes
  • Sensitivity to light or excessive tearing
  • Closing one eye to read or watch TV
  • Tilting their head consistently to the same side
  • Short attention span
  • Difficulty throwing or catching a ball, copying from a chalkboard or tying their shoes
  • Pulling a book in close to their face, or sitting too close to a TV
  • Lots of blinking or eye rubbing
  • Guiding their eyes with a finger or pencil while reading
  • Falling performance in school

As kids head back to class, get the school year started off right, and make an appointment with an optometrist to ensure your child is seeing clearly. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), infants should have their first comprehensive eye exam at 6 months to ensure healthy and proper eye development. Healthy eyes should be retested at age 3, and every two years thereafter. Children who need eyeglasses or contact lenses should be examined annually or according to their optometrist’s recommendations.

Dr. Teresa Theobald practices at Theobald Family Eye Care in Duluth and is the former president of the Minnesota Optometric Association.

September 1, 2015