The Back to School Eye Exam
And just like that, we’re approaching mid-August. Summer is beginning to wind down, which can mean only one thing: school will be back in session. Amidst the hustle and bustle of shopping for new school supplies, registering for classes, and finding fresh clothes to wear; one important item is often forgotten.
The back to school eye exam.
So why are eye examinations before going back to school important?
The back to school eye exam can be broken down into six different components that hold major importance when in (and out of!) the classroom.
1) Visual Acuity
2) Binocular Vision
3) Eye motility
6) Eye health
1) Visual Acuity
Definition: Visual acuity represents an individual’s propensity to sharpness both in the distance and up close. It measures an individual’s ability to read letters and numbers at varying distances.
Effect on School/Learning: When vision becomes blurry, visual acuity decreases – this can cause trouble reading out in the distance, such as the white board; or up close, such as a textbook.
Solution: For a majority of these cases, visual acuity is a result of refractive error (nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism) and can be corrected with glasses or contact lenses.
2) Binocular Vision
Definition: Binocular vision represents an individual’s ability to use his or her two eyes together and create fusion (single vision as opposed to double vision).
Effect on School/Learning: Due to lack of a mature visual system, many children’s eyes have a tendency to swing outward (exophoria) or inward (esophoria). In some cases, these eye turns can be so large that they are noticed just by looking at a child, and are referred to as strabismus or tropias.
The tendency for the eyes to swing outward or inward can cause an array of issues in the classroom. Headaches, eyestrain and lack of focus are just a few symptoms that can pop up.
Solution: Phorias and tropias can be treated with an eye exercise program called Vision Therapy, and in some case with prism lens correction.
3) Eye Motility
Definition: Eye motility simply refers to eye movement. Eye movements can happen in short bursts, known as saccades, or long steady tracking, known as pursuits.
Effect on School/Learning: Eye motility plays a vital role in reading. Both pursuits and saccades must happen harmoniously in order for an individual to effectively read from left to right and from line to line.
Issues such as overshooting, undershooting, improper recovery when changing lines, or inability to track in a straight line can all hinder a student’s ability to read. This in turn can affect comprehension and slow down reading performance.
Solution: Vision therapy exercises under the supervision of an experienced eye doctor can be prescribed to help treat motility problems and improve reading.
Definition: Accommodation is a process in which the natural lens of the eye changes shape in order to focus on objects up close (ex: reading).
Effect on School/Learning: In children, disorders of accommodation can often occur since the visual system is still developing. A child’s eyes may over-accommodate, under-accommodate, or even have spasms of accommodation. All of these issues with accommodation can create issues with focusing, eyestrain, and the process of switching from looking at books/papers to looking at the board.
Solution: Treatment for accommodative disorders can range from prescription glasses to specific vision therapy exercises.
5) Visual Processing
Definition: Visual processing encompasses a host of comprehensive and cognitive skills that relate to taking visual information, relaying it to the brain and understanding his information.
Effect on School/Learning: In children, visual processing insufficiency and errors can occur. A few common manifestations are listed below:
- Reversals – flipping letters
- Laterality issues – inability to distinguish left and right or up and down on self
- Directionality issues – inability to project left and right or up and down on environment
- Visual to oral issues – inability to create proper sounds when reading letters or words
Solution: Visual processing problems can be treated with special vision therapy exercises, which work on correcting the issues at hand.
6) Eye Health
Definition: Eye health refers to the overall health of the front and back of the eye.
Effects on School/Learning: While the general notion states that children’s eyes tend to be young and healthy, there are still some health conditions that we want to keep a watchful eye for. Common conditions like allergic conjunctivitis present as itchy eyes and can be treated. Rare and more serious conditions such as retinoblastoma and retinal detachments can occur in children and can be uncovered with an eye examination.
Solution: A comprehensive eye examination allows an eye care professional to carefully examine the health of the front and back of the eye. The practitioner can then recommend specific treatment, in a timely manner, if necessary.
In conclusion, a back to school eye exam is vital to ensure great vision and enable a child to perform at the highest visual level in the classroom. Additionally, these eye exams can detect both health and visual system conditions that may not be readily apparent but may hinder quality of life both in and outside of school. Call our office and schedule an appointment for your child today at (650) 948-3700!
-Dr. Aaron Neufeld
Dr. Aaron Neufeld is the Chief Optometrist at Los Altos Optometric Group and primary author and editor of The EYE Digest.
Contact him with questions or ideas for future articles at (650) 948-3700 or firstname.lastname@example.org