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Optometrists suggest exams for children as young as 6 months

By Staff | Jul 16, 2009

Eye doctors recommend that children as young as 6 months old begin receiving exams to prevent eye problems later in life.
August is National Children’s Vision and Learning Month, and optometrists want to educate parents, teachers and children on the link between vision and learning.
Dr. Rodney J. Smith, an optometrist at Eyeglass Works on Pine Island Road, said the American Optometric Association recommends children get their first eye exam at 6 months, adding that their next checkup should be at about age 3, then every year until they begin kindergarten.
Smith said he rarely sees children brought in for an exam at the recommended ages, even though many of them can develop eye issues that early. Only 10 percent of patients visiting the eye doctor are under the age of 4.
“Everyone is good about going to the dentist or pediatrician, but we don’t do the same thing for the eyes,” he said.
Smith said parents typically bring their child in if they complain about their vision, but most of the time children do not know the difference between clear vision and their own.
If a child is experiencing vision problems or a lazy eye, an optometrist can prescribe eyeglasses. These problems can be treated with corrective lenses, he said. In cases of a lazy eye, glasses can stop the eye from turning toward the nose.
Most importantly, a child’s vision needs to be clear to facilitate normal development.
“They have to have a nice clear image on the retina to develop normally,” said Smith.
Although vision disorders are the fourth most common disability, only one-third of children enrolled in school have ever had an eye exam, he said. Vision problems could lead to lower grades for children who cannot see a dry erase board or their textbook.
According to the American Optometric Association, 60 percent of students identified as “problem learners” have undetected vision problems, meaning that some could see improvement in their school work with a pair of glasses or contact lenses.
Sharon Warnecke, coordinator for health services at the Lee County School District, said students have their vision screened in kindergarten and grades one, three and six. Nurses use a Sure Sight Vision Screener to determine if a child has problems with their vision.
If a child tests positive for vision problems after two screenings are administered, they are sent home with a referral to an eye doctor before the issue negatively affects their school work.
“We focus pretty much on getting the vision screening done at beginning of the year so they can get glasses on their face before testing,” she said.
Some parents are unable to pay for eyeglasses that can cost hundreds of dollars. Warnecke said the school district has mechanisms in place to make sure children who need glasses can afford them. They have partnerships with the Lion’s Club, Vision Quest and a program through the National Association of School Nurses called VSP.
Families who qualify can also procure glasses for their children through the state’s KidCare insurance program. In order to qualify for the program a child needs to be under 19, have no insurance and meet certain income requirements. For more information on KidCare, call (888) 540-5437.