Being able to see is pretty important. Children with vision problems are at a disadvantage to their peers, and often have difficulties seeing in the classroom, which can lead to gaps in learning (or reluctance to learn). Poor eyesight can also cause headaches, eyestrain, squinting, and eye fatigue, which make certain tasks like reading physically uncomfortable.
Most schools screen for vision problems annually, but the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that children have their first full vision screening at age three, with parents urged to contact their medical provider if eye problems are present prior to age three.
To understand eye conditions, we should at least have a basic idea of eye anatomy. The cornea is the front of the eye that lets light pass into the lens inside the eye. The lens is the part of the eye that focuses the light into images on the retina at the back of the eye. Normal corneas and lenses are perfectly smooth and rounded, like the surface of a ball, which allows the light coming into the eye to form a crisply focused image on the retina. Differences in these structures can cause blurred or impaired vision. There are three common conditions that affect the eyes, all of which tend to run in families
Nearsightedness, or myopia, results when the cornea or lens isn’t curved properly. As a result, light entering the eye focuses in front of the retina, causing objects in the distance to appear blurry and unfocused.
Children who like to do a lot of close work, like reading or building detailed models, tend to have higher incidences of myopia. A child with one parent who has myopia is at greater risk of developing the condition; a child with two parents who have myopia are at an even greater risk. Nearsightedness tends to worsen during childhood and adolescence.
Hyperopia is present at birth and occurs if the cornea is not curved enough or the eye is shorter than normal. This results in light focusing behind the retina, causing close objects to be blurry.
Hyperopia can cause crossed eyes in some children. Because it is hard to focus on blurry objects, squinting, eyestrain, and headaches are commonly associated with hyperopia. Hyperopia that is unrecognized or undiagnosed in children can result in learning problems because of their inability to see properly.
In cases of astigmatism, the cornea or lens isn’t smoothly curved or even, resulting in improper refraction of light rays. This defect causes vision to be blurred horizontally, diagonally, or vertically. Astigmatism can result from an eye injury, eye surgery, or eye disease. While some people are born with astigmatism, certain activities, like squinting, reading in poor light, or sitting too close to the television can make the condition worse.
Thankfully, all three conditions can be corrected with the use of eyeglasses or contact lenses. Some eye doctors offer free vision screenings in the fall before school starts, and several organizations, like the Lions Club, offer financial assistance for families who cannot afford glasses or lenses. Vision is an important part of learning. Making sure your child sees well is an important part of his or her education.