Why eye exams should be part of your back-to-school routine

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When so much of a child’s learning involves their vision, it’s important to check your child’s eyes once a year, because good eye health is more than just 20/20 vision.

The American Optometric Association recommends children to get their first eye exam at six months old and then again at age three and when they start school.

It used to be a state requirement in Missouri for kids to get an eye exam before each school year, but it’s not any more.

Getting an eye screening is an okay place to start, but they are limited in what they can do. Screenings usually test for visual acuity, but that’s not what kids use when they learn.

However, a full eye exam will give you a better idea of your visual health.

“First of all, check your eye health, which is very important, make sure the eyes are teaming together, make sure they’re focusing well because that’s a very important part of it,” said Dr. Steve Rice, Optometrist at the Vision Clinic in Springfield. “And then there’s eye tracking, there’s ability to go from distance to near and near to distance, so a lot of things that we’re looking at that a screening doesn’t cover.”

One problem a screening might miss is amblyopia, which is lazy eye. That’s difficult to pick up in a screening because kids have learned to compensate with their other eye. Eye exams can also detect a stigmatism and diseases like diabetes.

Yet another reason for regular eye exams is the growing prevalence of technology in the classroom.

The visual demands for kids nowadays are much different than ever before as they spend a lot of time in front of computers, phones, tablets and televisions.

The blue and violet lights from those screens can cause a lot of eye strain and eye fatigue. So in addition to getting examined for any eye problems or diseases, be sure to have your kids take frequent breaks from technology.

“And one of the things that we do encourage folks in the summer, we want them to be outside,” said Dr. Rice. “Lots of research and studies show us that the sunlight and the green and the blues outside are very important in the development of the visual system. And it does give them a chance to give their focusing muscles a break, looking out at distance things, getting their eyes to work together and team together naturally, rather than sitting in front of their iPad or tablet or phone or whatever it is.”

Dr. Rice recommends the 20-20-20 rule, which requires taking a 20 second break every 20 minutes to look out at a 20-foot distance. Doing so will alleviate a lot of strain on the eyes when focusing on a screen.

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