Kids can be pretty vocal when they’re hungry, grumpy or just plain ol’ tired, but when it comes to vision problems – such as difficulty making out the writing on the blackboard, or blurry-looking words in their book – they may be less likely to speak up.
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The American Optometric Association (AOA) says that 80 percent of the way in which children learn occurs visually, making good vision crucial to a child’s education and development. According to Ruchika Ranasinghe, MD, vision issues typically emerge between the ages of seven to nine. Poor vision may lead to poor academic performance, low self-esteem and behavioral problems, such as procrastinating or making excuses for tackling homework.
And it’s not unusual for parents to be unaware that their child has trouble seeing. “A lot of the time, parents don’t realize,” says Dr. Ranasinghe. “Often it’s their child’s teacher who notices, like if the child has to sit in the front of the class to be able to see the board.” And while school-aged kids are typically diagnosed with eye issues more often than toddlers, eye conditions like crossed eyes and lazy eye can start developing between the ages of 2 and 5.
The sooner a vision problem is detected and treated, the more likely treatment will be successful. With some insights from Ranasinghe, we’re sharing tips for recognizing behaviors that could signal vision problems, along with ways to ensure your child maintains gold-star eye health.
Signs that your child may be visually impaired include:
- Consistently sitting close to the TV or holding a book too closely
- Squinting, blinking or closing one eye repeatedly
- Tilting the head to one side to try to see better
- Frequent eye rubbing while doing activities
- Sensitivity to light and/or frequent headaches
- Losing his or her place while reading
- Avoiding reading and other close-up visual work
- Becoming irritated when doing visual work
- Poor hand-eye coordination
If your child displays or complains about any of these symptoms, take your child for an evaluation from an eye doctor, pediatrician or family physician. “Pediatricians see kids at their routine visits and if we notice any decrease in their visual acuity – like an eye deviating to either side – then we would refer them to an optometrist or an ophthalmologist,” says Ranasinghe.
Here are three simple ways to boost your child’s eye health:
- Make sure your child gets a comprehensive eye exam. Children should get their first eye exam as newborns, again as infants between 6 months to a year old, and then once more as a toddler between the ages of 3 and 3 1/2. Once children reach school age, the AOA recommends they undergo a comprehensive eye exam at least once every two years – even if a child successfully passes a school vision screening with 20/20 vision. A vision screening can actually miss up to 60 percent of children with other vision problems. Vision screenings are limited because they only test for visual acuity, while comprehensive eye exams check for other eye issues such as lazy eye, glaucoma, cataracts and more.
- Limit your child’s exposure to screens and electronic devices. In 2015, a panel of U.S. ophthalmology experts suggested that excessive computer time in kids may contribute to childhood myopia, or nearsightedness, where kids have a hard time seeing objects farther away. “A prolonged amount of TV watching, or just staring at the computer or iPad for too long, may tire your child’s eyes and potentially make vision worse,” explains Ranasinghe.
- Protect your child’s eyes from the sun. Just as we need sunscreen to protect our skin, your child’s eye health can stay safe by wearing sunglasses when outside for long periods of time on sunny days, says Ranasinghe. For younger children who won’t cooperate with sunglasses, a hat can also help shield their eyes.