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Don't Delay Children's Eye Exams

The school year has begun for children around the country, and a health issue that can affect their learning is ever-present. Nearly 80% of children's learning occurs through the eyes--reading, writing, and observing the world around them.
10/02/2015 10:08am ET | Updated October 1, 2016
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The school year has begun for children around the country, and a health issue that can affect their learning is ever-present. Nearly 80% of children's learning occurs through the eyes--reading, writing, and observing the world around them. However, too many children aren't undergoing regular comprehensive eye exams, threatening their learning ability and often leading to behavioral problems.

In a recent survey, Think About Your Eyes, a national public awareness campaign designed to educate the public on the benefits of vision health and promote the importance of getting an annual comprehensive eye exam, found that 60% of parents don't think an annual eye exam is a necessary part of their child's health check-up schedule. In comparison, 81% take their children to the dentist and 78% take their children to the pediatrician at least once a year. The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends children receive three eye exams by age six, but of the parents surveyed with children under age six, half had never taken their child for an eye exam.

According to the AOA's 2015 American Eye-Q® survey, an overwhelming number of parents (89 percent) mistakenly believe that vision screenings, offered in schools and at pediatrician's offices, are an effective way to detect vision problems in infants and children. However, these screenings typically test distance vision, a child who can see 20/20 can still have a vision problem. In reality, the vision skills needed for successful reading and learning are much more complex.

When surveyed by Think About Your Eyes, 84% of parents said they would take their child to the eye doctor for the first time only after the child complains of vision issues. But children aren't the best judge of what "normal" vision is. Their vision is all they know, thus serious and treatable eye issues can go undetected for years.

A comprehensive eye exam will test all aspects of children's sight and for vision issues that may not yet show symptoms. Undetected and untreated vision disorders can have some of the same signs and symptoms commonly attributed to a behavior problem, such as avoiding reading, hyperactivity and attention deficits. Due to these similarities, some children may be mislabeled as having behavioral issues, reading disabilities and difficultly learning when, in fact, all they have is a problem with how they see.

Take the time this fall to schedule a comprehensive eye exam for your child. Many parents may not realize that a regular visit to their local eye doctor is best for children and that their kids may already be covered for regular comprehensive eye exams and needed follow-up care. Many health plans, including private and public programs, already include this important benefit. In fact, the 2010 health care law - the Affordable Care Act - recognizes regular comprehensive eye exams provided by an eye doctor as an essential health benefit for all children.

Need to find a doctor close to you? Visit www.thinkaboutyoureyes.com.

Editor's Note: Dr. Loomis is the president of the American Optometric Association and a practicing optometrist in Littleton, CO.