Undiagnosed vision problems severely affect students

Published 6:52 pm Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Millions of children will start school this year with a vision problem that may inhibit their ability to learn and ultimately affect the rest of their lives. As parents send their children back to school, one of the most important things they can do to help ensure their child’s ability to learn is to take them for an eye exam. The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends comprehensive eye exams especially for children entering preschool and kindergarten.

Without a comprehensive eye exam by an optometrist or an ophthalmologist, many children have vision problems that can go undiagnosed, and may even be misdiagnosed as a learning disorder.

“An early comprehensive eye exam evaluates a child’s vision, eye teaming skills and tracking skills as well as eye health. It’s a good way to avoid problems down the road,” said Dr. Jason Dickerson of Clanton Eyecare.

Children entering preschool or kindergarten benefit the most from comprehensive eye exams though they rarely receive them early enough. Currently, only 14 percent of children under age six have received a comprehensive eye exam, according to the U.S. Center for Health Statistics. Vision impairments in children of this age can be detected through an eye exam and are typically easy to correct immediately afterwards.

An eye exam will help correct common vision problems, such as nearsightedness and farsightedness as well as more serious conditions such as amblyopia, commonly known as lazy eye. Amblyopia affects about 5 percent of children nationwide. The condition is completely treatable and preventable if detected within the first few years of life. The lack of early eye care has allowed amblyopia to escape detection, and it remains the leading cause of blindness in Americans under 40.

“Children may not recognize that they have a vision problem,” said Dr. Dickerson, “particularly children who are too young to know the alphabet or even to speak. However, there are proven methods for full eye exams on young children that can be done efficiently and effectively.” The back-to-school season is an ideal time for parents to take their child to an eye doctor for a comprehensive exam, particularly since much of what children learn is obtained through the eyes.