Last year, we took our daughter Madi for an eye exam and it was discovered that she needed glasses. We learned that Madi had a common vision problem called astigmatism (a vision problem caused by irregular curvature of the eye). We were shocked because we never suspected she had any problems with her eyesight – she would often say letters incorrectly, but I thought it was because she was still learning.
This experience has shown me how important early eye exams are for children. In fact, it is recommended that children should have at least one eye exam before they start school and yearly thereafter. COVID safety protocols are in place at all optometry clinics. I collaborated with the Alberta Association of Optometrists and here are some of the reasons eye exams are so important:
Poor vision can interfere with learning – early diagnosis sets kids up for success
The Alberta Association of Optometrists’ Eye See… Eye Learn™ program is designed to detect, diagnose and treat children with vision problems. The program provides kindergarten students with a comprehensive eye exam from a doctor of optometry, which has Alberta Health coverage. Eye See… Eye Learn™ also provides free eyeglasses to any kindergarten-aged child who requires a pair.
Vision issues can be difficult for parents to detect
It’s not uncommon for parents to believe they would know if their child has a vision problem as these issues can be hard to spot. A child may simply assume everyone sees the way they do and may disguise symptoms or compensate for poor vision by adapting their behaviour.
Once a child reaches kindergarten, they should have an annual eye exam. It is an opportunity to ensure they are ready for school. There is Alberta Health coverage available for children’s annual eye exams until their 19th birthday.
One in four children in Alberta has a vision problem
Children with vision problems are often misdiagnosed as having learning or behavioural disabilities. Approximately 60 per cent of children who experience reading difficulties have an undiagnosed vision problem. Failing to identify and treat poor vision health early can interfere with a child’s ability to socialize and learn. If left untreated, some vision issues can result in permanent impairment.
Digital eye strain is an increasing problem among children
More children are experiencing digital eye strain from using electronics for extended periods of time, especially with the trend towards increased home schooling due to COVID-19. Research suggests too much screen time may put kids at risk of developing myopia (near-sightedness) as well as eye strain, resulting in tired eyes, headaches, itchy eyes, blurred vision and increased sensitivity to light.
Warning signs of vision problems in kids
The following are signs and symptoms that could indicate a vision problem:
- Consistently sitting too close to the TV or holding a book too close
- Losing their place while reading or using a finger to guide their eyes when reading
- Squinting or tilting the head to see better
- Frequent eye rubbing
- Sensitivity to light and/or excessive tearing
- Closing one eye to read or watch TV to see better
- Avoiding activities which require near vision, such as reading or participating in sports or other recreational activities
- Complaining of headaches or tired eyes
- Avoiding using a computer because it “hurts my eyes”
Comprehensive eye exams are part of a child’s health routine
One of the most effective ways to keep a child’s eyes healthy is to schedule an annual comprehensive eye exam. An optometrist can check for vision problems that could interfere with learning performance and potentially affect safety. Just like annual dentist visits, eye exams should be scheduled once a year as part of a child’s health routine.
The Alberta Association of Optometrists’ Eye See… Eye Learn™ program provides glasses free of charge to any kindergarten-aged child who requires a pair following a comprehensive eye exam by a doctor of optometry. More information about the program is available at www.optometrists.ab.ca/esel