By Dr. Mark Pitcher, Doctor of Optometry
Pencils – check. Paper – check. New clothes – check. It’s almost time for Okotoks and area children to get back to the books, and parents are working through those back to school checklists. Alberta Doctors of Optometry are encouraging parents to add one more item to their lists – a comprehensive eye exam.
According to the National Coalition for Vision Health, only 14 per cent of Canadian children entering Grade 1 have had an eye exam. A recent survey also revealed that only 60 per cent of Albertans know that school-age children should have annual eye exams. These numbers are concerning to optometrists, who in many cases, can treat and prevent vision and eye health problems if they are caught early.
There are many reasons for children to have back to school eye exams, including:
· One in four school-age children has a vision problem and many of these problems have no obvious symptoms. Since children have no point of comparison, most accept their vision as normal because they don’t know any differently. As a result, many children with impaired visual skills can become withdrawn and perform below their potential in school. Some children are even misdiagnosed as having a learning disability.
· Research shows that most parents (61 per cent) mistakenly believe that they would know if their child had a vision problem. The truth is, with no easy-to-detect symptoms, it is impossible to know without an eye exam from a Doctor of Optometry.
· Vision problems affect learning and development and prevent children from reaching their full potential. Approximately 60 per cent of children with literacy issues have an undiagnosed or untreated vision problem, according to the National Coalition for Vision Health. Vision problems are also often misdiagnosed as ADHD.
· A comprehensive eye exam from a Doctor of Optometry provides the full assurance of vision and eye health that a simple eye-chart test or a school vision screening cannot. Studies show that vision screening has high error rates, with 43 per cent of children with vision problems passing the screening.
Alberta Doctors of Optometry recommend children have their first comprehensive eye exam between the ages of six and nine months, their second between the ages of two and five and one every year after that. These appointments are covered by Alberta Health Care.
For more information and to find an optometrist near you, visit http://www.optometrists.ab.ca/find-an-optometrist.