Children and Eye Health: The Importance of Regular Eye Exams

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October is children’s vision month, so throughout the month, we will be working to bring awareness to children’s eye health. This month, we wanted to talk about the importance of children’s eye exams, and why focusing on their eye health is just as important as focusing on our own.

Why are eye exams important for children?

Learning is 80% visual, so being able to see clearly is very important for school-age children. Good vision and eye health contribute to success in school, and comprehensive eye exams are necessary to ensure eye health.

Some children may get a “vision test” through their school. However, this vision test isn’t a comprehensive eye exam; it’s a vision screening test. Vision screening will only test for distance vision and doesn’t look at overall eye health and other vision skills the way that a full eye exam does. While vision screening is important, it can’t take the place of a comprehensive eye exam.

While it’s easy to believe that as parents and caregivers, we will be able to tell when a child has a vision issue, that’s simply not the case. Oftentimes, children don’t know that there’s anything wrong with their vision – they think that what and how they’re seeing is normal, so they don’t tell anyone that there could be something wrong. Unfortunately, this means that some children have an undetected vision issue that can negatively affect their ability to learn. In fact, while only 14% of children starting the first grade have had a comprehensive eye exam, approximately 25% of children will have a vision or eye health problem. Without regular eye health exams, these vision issues can go unnoticed and undetected.

When should my child have their first eye exam?

The Canadian Association of Optometrists recommends that children should have their first eye health exam between the ages of 6 and 9 months. They should have their second exam sometime between the ages of 2 and 5. Once they start school, children should have an eye exam done yearly. Alberta Health Care covers the cost of eye exams until a child turns 19.

What are symptoms of vision or eye health issues?

Here are some symptoms to look for that can indicate an eye health issue in your child(ren):

  • regularly losing their place while reading
  • avoiding work that is completed close up
  • holding books and other reading material closer than normal
  • tilting their head to use one eye, or closing one eye so that only one eye is used
  • making reversals when reading or writing
  • omitting or confusing small words when reading
  • frequently rubbing eyes
  • frequently getting headaches

How can I help my child?

We all want our children to succeed. Here are some ways that we can encourage good eye health at home:

  • monitor screen time and ensure that children take regular periodic digital breaks
    • “screen time” includes all digital screens: TVs, phones, tablets, e-readers, gaming devices, and any other digital device with a screen
    • remember the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds
  • watch TV from a distance of five times the width of the screen
  • have eye-friendly rooms: reduce glare, and ensure the room has a soft overall light
  • work areas (for homework, etc) should be evenly lit and free from glare, and furniture should be the right size and at the right height for proper posture
  • make sure children take periodic breaks during times of intense focus or concentration
  • balance screen time with play time (outdoor, creative, and quiet play)

Eye See…Eye Learn

The Alberta Association of Optometrists offers the Eye See…Eye Learn program, which provides comprehensive eye exams and a free pair of prescription glasses to children in kindergarten. Children are eligible for the program beginning in September of their kindergarten year, up until they begin grade one. Simply contact your optometrist and let them know that you would like your child to participate in the Eye See…Eye Learn program.

For more information about the Eye See…Eye Learn program, visit https://www.optometrists.ab.ca/esel. To book an eye exam for your child, contact us at the clinic, or go to https://www.optometrists.ab.ca/find-an-optometrist to find an optometrist near you.

References

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