Why Kids Need a Different Kind of Eye Exam

Published 08/25 2014 04:49PM

Updated 08/25 2014 05:41PM

ALTOONA - Many children start back to class with new shoes, new clothes, and a new backpack full of school supplies, but without an important element for school success, good vision. You may be surprised to learn what today's  back to school eye exams can teach you.
Six-year-old Evan Burke passed his basic eye exam. He doesn't need glasses.

"Fortunately most of them actually do have pretty good what we would call 20-20 vision but there's more to it than 20-20 vision," says Optometrist Dr. Michelle Barnes.

She tests for other components of good vision, such as eye muscle movement, watching to see if Evan's eyes track easily. If they have to work too hard to focus, it could result in blurry vision.

When kids have trouble paying attention after about 20 minutes, they rub their eyes, use their finger to keep their place, jumble or reverse words, these actions could be signs of an eye muscle movement disorder. Dr. Barnes says, with early diagnosis,vision therapy can keep the problem from hurting a child's ability to learn.

Other issues that may impair vision in today's kids could be harder to tackle.

Dr. Barnes says, "what we once thought was strictly a genetic problem, nearsightedness, now seems like there might be an environmental element from digital technology and kids get exposed to it practically from out of the crib. "

According to the optometrist, a  British study shows nearsightedness rose 30 percent over a 13 year period, which began around the time we started holding digital gadgets up to our eyes. She tells parents to limit screen time for preschoolers.

"When you do hand them your phone to play a game to entertain them at a restaurant or at a doctor appointment keep them holding it further away. Don't let them get into the habit of being right here," she says, holding her hands only a few inches from her eyes.

Dr. Barnes points out that according to the American Optometric Association, parents greatly underestimate the amount of time that their children use digital devices. 

She says we all need to hold our phones and other digital devices farther from our eyes and break away from them more often. Too much screen time can lead to digital eye strain.

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