Back To School Checklist Should Include Eye Exam

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Eye Exam and Vision

Preparing for the start of a new school year? Remember to get a new backpack, paper and pencils, and get your children's vision screened as part of their back to school checklist.

"Poor vision can interfere with learning, school performance, participation in sports and other activities, as well as self esteem," said Dr. Kimberly Yen, assistant professor of ophthalmology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and an ophthalmologist at Texas Children's Hospital.

Yen said if parents know that eye problems run in their family or if they suspect problems, it is especially important that their child receive eye exams regularly. All children should have their eyes examined, as part of their well-child check ups and children who exhibit no signs of visual problems should have their vision screened by age 3.

Amblyopia, or "lazy eye", and strabismus are two common eye problems.

"Lazy eye" occurs because the brain doesn't receive clearly focused images from one eye. As a result, the brain learns to rely on the other "good" eye, in which the images are clearly focused.

If detected early enough, a patch, or occasionally, eye drops can be used to blur the vision in the strong eye. This encourages the weak eye to be used, strengthening the vision.

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Strabismus occurs when the eyes are misaligned, and it is caused by an inability of the brain to control the eyes in a coordinated manner, sometimes from a damaged nerve or a problem in part of the brain or the eye muscles. Strabismus is common in children, but most young children go untested and unidentified.

Exercise of the eye muscles alone usually will not correct strabismus. Glasses, eye drops, and/or surgery are often necessary to create and maintain good alignment.

Yen says that studies have shown that children begin to notice the differences in people's eyes as early as 5 or 6 years of age. Misalignment of the eyes can therefore affect how well they fit in at school and how their peers treat them.

"It's important to address the issues early on," Yen said. "Take your child to their pediatrician or ophthalmologist immediately."

Many eye accidents that occur with children are sports-related, and almost all are preventable by protective eyewear.

Parents should always remind children to wear eye protection when participating in sports, said Yen. Children who play basketball, baseball and racquet sports are more susceptible to eye injuries. Sports goggles can significantly reduce the likelihood of potentially sight damaging injuries.

Good vision not only helps children develop in the classroom, but it teaches them the life-long value of regular vision screenings.

HOUSTON - (July 25, 2005)

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