Back-to-School: the Importance of Vision Screening

Doctor looking at a young girl’s eyes

Back-to-School: the Importance of Vision Screening

The back-to-school season is a busy time of year for families with children. School supplies, new clothes, backpacks – the list of things necessary to help your student begin a new school year is daunting. One thing that should be near the top of your back-to-school list is a vision screening for your child. The old adage of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” rings true, especially with children’s eye health.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recognizes August as Back-to-School Eye Health month, so we’ll discuss the importance of vision screening, the difference between a vision screening and an eye exam, how often screennigs should be done, and the screening options available.

What’s a vision screening?

A vision screening and an eye exam may sound similar, but they are drastically different.

A vision screening can be performed by a pediatrician, family physician, nurse, or trained technician during a child’s regular medical checkup. These screenings take less time, and can be done more frequently, than an eye exam. Eye exams are conducted by an ophthalmologist or eye care professional and are recommended if a problem is detected during a vision screening. Eye exams are more comprehensive and usually involve the child’s eyes being dilated.

Since only 2 to 4 percent of children have eye problems that require ophthalmic treatment, according to the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, vision screenings are a more cost effective and efficient way of diagnosing eye conditions in children versus comprehensive eye exams.

Forms of screenings

Depending on the age of a child and the practitioner giving the exam, the following tests are available.

Objective testing

  • Inspection. The practitioner will observe a child’s eyes, pupils, and red eye reflex.
  • Photoscreening. Similar to inspection, this testing uses a special camera to check for poor vision, if a child needs glasses, or if any abnormalities are present.
  • Corneal light reflex testing. Using a penlight, a child will focus on the light and the position of the light reflection from the cornea is noticed. The corneal light should be in focus and in the center of both pupils.
  • Cover testing. By having the examiner cover a child’s eye one at a time, they can determine misalignment of a child’s eyes.

Subjective testing

  • Visual acuity. Similar to the eye chart used for adults, this testing is modified to include a shorter distance from the chart and symbols or shapes instead of letters.

Frequency of screenings

It’s recommended for children to have vision screenings at the following stages of life:

  • Newborn. A child’s first screening is conducted while they’re in the nursery and the child’s eye, pupil, and red reflex are inspected. Red reflex is a reflection from the lining of the inside of the eye that causes the pupil to look red in pictures when the red-eye reduction is disabled.
  • Infancy. These screenings are done when the child is between 6 months and 1 year.
  • Preschool. When children are between the ages of 3 and 3½ their vision and eye alignment will be assessed.
  • School Age. Similar to when the child is in preschool, visual acuity and alignment will be assessed. In this age range, myopia, or nearsightedness, is common and can be corrected with glasses.

It’s important to note that in the state of Oklahoma, children are required to have eye screenings upon entering kindergarten, first grade, and third grade.

No matter the age of your child, it’s important to take notice if vision problems arise. Knowing the difference between vision screenings and eye exams, the frequency of screenings, and the forms of screenings available will better educate parents, grandparents, caregivers, and teachers of the importance of eye health.

To request an appointment for your child’s eye screening with one of our physicians at Dean McGee Eye Institute, visit our website or call us today at 800-787-9012.

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