Keeping a close watch on your children’s eye health is important to catching problems early. Especially when you consider that one of four school-age children has a vision disorder, according to the American Optometric Association.

“This underscores the importance of monitoring your child’s eyes,” says Amy Negovan, RN, CPNP, Program Director, Partners for Healthy Students (PHS), Dignity Health Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC). “Screening is an essential part of this because children may not realize when their vision isn’t normal.”

August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month, a good time to focus on screenings and how to care for your child’s eyes at different stages.

A physician or other trained health care professional will examine your newborn’s eyes to check their eye health. Babies can be born with cataracts, blocked tear ducts, and other problems that affect their health.

Premature or low birthweight babies are considered high risk for vision loss. These children will need additional monitoring as they grow. Newborns with a family history of childhood eye disease should also be closely watched.

Toddlers and young children
“It’s important that all children undergo both vision screenings and eye exams as they’re growing and changing,” Negovan says. “A vision screening can provide early detection of nearsightedness or farsightedness. An eye exam is a detailed check of the child’s eyes and eye health.”

PHS health care providers conduct vision screenings and eye exams for children of all ages. For vision screening, they use distant and near charts. Children who are too young – or unable to respond to the charts – are screened by special computerized equipment that measures their vision and other abnormalities, such as strabismus.

A comprehensive eye exam is recommended for children between 12- and 36-months old. These exams include a “photo screening” to ensure eyes are developing correctly. Two of the most common childhood eye conditions are:

  • Amblyopia – Also known as “lazy eye,” treatment for this may include an eye patch, eye drops, or eyeglasses.
  • Strabismus – Often called “crossed eyes,” this condition may be treated with special eyewear or an eye patch. Severe cases of strabismus may require surgery.

During eye exams, PHS pediatric nurse practitioners also examine the back of the eye – retina, optic disc, and blood vessels – using an ophthalmoscope. These exams can identify a variety of abnormalities that call for further examination by an ophthalmologist.

5 years and older
Beginning at age 5, experts recommend annual vision screenings for children. That’s good timing since children often become farsighted or nearsighted between the ages of 6 and 12. While farsightedness often improves with age, being nearsighted typically worsens. Eyeglasses or contact lenses can correct blurry vision due to either condition.

How can parents tell if their child has a vision problem? Headaches, tired or sore eyes, squinting to see clearly for nearsightedness, or trouble seeing things up close for farsightedness, may signal vision problems. Less obvious indications include quickly losing interest in activities that require eye use or easily losing their place when reading.

At all ages: Eye health, screen time, and sports
Lots of screen time may lead to nearsightedness and eye strain, according to recent studies. Even before remote classes, 83 percent of children spent nearly three hours a day on a digital device. To combat vision problems and eye strain, teach your child the 20-20-20 rule: look up from the screen every 20 minutes and focus at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

Being an active kid can lead to eye injuries. Basketball, baseball, and softball are among the sports most often linked to eye injuries. Because of this, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommend protective eyewear for young people who participate in sports or other activities with a risk of eye injury.

“Good vision is key to a child’s physical development, success in school, and overall wellbeing,” says Negovan. “Fortunately, screening and prevention strategies can identify issues early and give children the best outcomes possible.”

Learn more
PHS provides primary health care services to Quad Cities families at school-based clinics and a mobile health clinic. The program helps bridge the gap for uninsured or underinsured families, and those with AHCCCS or KidsCare. For more information, visit PHS or call (928) 771-5662 to schedule an appointment.