BY DR. PAIGE GILLENWATERS-LAUDICINA

At the Eye Center, we believe that good vision is essential to a child’s academic success, and feel strongly that each child should have their eyes routinely evaluated with a comprehensive eye exam. Decreased vision can interfere with a child’s ability to see the board clearly at school, or to read or do their homework for prolonged periods of time. Often a child will cope by avoiding these activities, unaware that their vision is holding them back. Also, it’s difficult for most children to vocalize a vision problem, as most don’t understand they could be seeing more clearly or more comfortably.

With the school year now in full swing, it is possible for a child to begin facing challenges with their vision, so let’s take this opportunity to define some common vision conditions and suggest possible signs and symptoms to watch for.

Myopia, or nearsightedness, is probably the easiest to detect. As the name implies, someone who is nearsighted sees well up close, but has trouble with their distance vision. You may suspect someone is nearsighted if they squint in order to see distance objects (for example; the board at school, especially when sitting in the back of the classroom). Recent studies reveal approximately 10% of school aged children are myopic. Myopia tends to worsen as a child grows, so an annual trip to the optometrist is necessary, along with prescription changes when needed.

In contrast, someone who is hyperopic, or farsighted, sees distance objects quite well but complains of trouble up close. In my experience, these symptoms can be more subtle for patients. Someone who is farsighted may have the ability to read things up close, but experiences fatigue, eyestrain, or headaches after a prolonged period of time. If a child frequently comes home from school with a headache or with tired eyes, a comprehensive eye exam is warranted.

Astigmatism is a term that is commonly used and poorly understood. Astigmatism refers to the shape of the front portion (the cornea) of the eye. In an ideal world, the cornea would be completely round, and light would hit each part of the cornea and focus perfectly on the retina. When you have astigmatism, the cornea has an atypical shape, creating multiple points of focus on the back of the eye, and a blurred image for the viewer. Depending on the amount of astigmatism a person has, symptoms may vary from mild strain and headaches to very blurred vision at both distance and near.

Each of these conditions is easily detected during an eye exam, and can be corrected by glasses or contact lenses. Some prescriptions may require full time wear, while others only part time.

One last point of mention is, it is important to differentiate a vision screening like the ones performed at the pediatrician’s office or at school, from a comprehensive eye exam done at an optometrist’s office. Screenings typically only measure acuity, or your child’s ability to resolve detail. A comprehensive eye exam will go into much more detail, measuring refractive error (the need for glasses), eye alignment and binocular vision (how comfortab

ly the two eyes work together), and color vision, along with a full ocular health evaluation encompassing the front and back of the eye (seen with dilation).

In summary, I recommend adding a comprehensive eye exam to your back to school checklist, to ensure your child’s eyes are ready to take on the visual demands of another school year. Set your child up for success!

This article originally appeared in Next-Gen Magazine’s October-November issue on pg 86-87.