A message for parents: School eye screenings don't replace a comprehensive eye exam


(BPT) - With the academic year in full swing, many schools across the country are administering vision screenings to students. Parents mistakenly breathe a sigh of relief upon hearing that their children “passed” the screening. What parents don’t know are the significant limitations of school-based screenings. School vision screenings fail to detect a range of potentially harmful vision issues, the American Optometric Association (AOA) reports.

Unfortunately, nine out of 10 parents think that school-based vision screenings are all their children need to confirm good eye health. But screenings miss up to 75 percent of dangerous eye conditions in children, according to AOA’s new Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guideline: Comprehensive Pediatric Eye and Vision Examination. What’s more, when a vision screening does indicate a possible problem, only 39 percent of children receive the care they need from an eye doctor.

One of the biggest hurdles to detecting poor vision is the child’s awareness of the problem. Most children with vision problems don’t know that other children see better than they do; they think their poor vision is “normal.”

“Healthy eyes and good vision are essential for every child’s development,” says AOA President Christopher Quinn, O.D. “Parents need to know that school vision screenings can miss potentially severe eye or vision problems. They cannot replace a comprehensive exam by a doctor of optometry.”

The AOA, which represents more than 44,000 optometrists, optometric professionals and optometry students in communities across the country, recently issued a new, evidence-based guideline for vision care in children that informs parents and caregivers about protecting their children’s eye health. The guideline, which is based on a three-year review of the latest research, concludes that children should receive a comprehensive eye exam during their first year of life and again between the ages of 3 and 5, before entering first grade and annually thereafter.

“Regular, comprehensive eye exams not only contribute to helping children succeed, they prevent and diagnose serious eye problems that can be more expensive to treat and cause permanent vision impairment if left undetected,” Quinn says.

Vision and academic performance

Multiple studies have linked vision problems with poor academic performance and behavioral issues. In fact, children with undetected and untreated vision problems can exhibit some of the same symptoms as kids with attention-deficit disorders, leading to false diagnoses.

“Good vision is more complex than just being able to see clearly,” Quinn says. “In order to see well enough to perform to the best of their academic abilities, children’s eyes need to focus, track, work together and judge distance and depth. Typical school vision tests only screen for nearsightedness.”

Eye health problems

A comprehensive eye exam by a doctor of optometry can help detect serious eye health and vision problems that in-school screenings simply aren’t designed to catch. These problems include amblyopia, a condition that impairs vision in one of a child’s eyes because the eye and the brain are not working together properly.

According to AOA, parents should keep these four tips in mind when it comes to their children’s eye health and safety:

1. Know that pediatric eye exams with a doctor of optometry are most likely covered by your health insurance plan. Most health insurance plans, including those sold in health insurance marketplaces, cover comprehensive pediatric eye exams.

2. Look for indicators of vision and eye-health issues in your children. Common signals that your child may have a vision problem include covering one eye, holding reading materials close to the face, a short attention span and complaining of headaches or other discomfort. Remember, most children don’t know they have a problem, so they are unlikely to say anything, even if they are struggling.

3. Prevent eye strain by monitoring use of digital devices. Increased exposure to electronic devices in and out of the classroom can cause digital eye strain, including burning or itchy eyes, headaches, blurred vision and exhaustion. AOA recommends following the 20-20-20 rule (taking a 20-second break every 20 minutes and looking at something 20 feet away), blinking frequently and adjusting your child's computer screen to prevent glare.

4. Make sure your kids wear proper eye protection for sports and outdoor activities. Well-fitting, protective eye wear and quality sunglasses that offer UV protection are critical to maintaining key visual skills and preventing injuries.

To learn more about vision health, visit www.aoa.org.