Nine signs your child may need to see an eye doctor

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Experts say eye strain can cause reading problems and affect academics

From purchasing school supplies to making sure kids eat a healthy breakfast, parents play a major role in helping set the stage for success in the classroom. But some parents may be overlooking one critical tool for academic success: routine eye exams.

A recent survey by VSP Vision Care and YouGov found that half of U.S. parents skip back-to-school eye exams. In fact, one in 10 (13 percent) parents had never taken their child(ren) to the eye doctor.

Annual eye exams are crucial, experts say, as they can help spot issues early. Left untreated, certain eye issues can cause kids to fall behind academically or developmentally. They can even lead to vision loss later in life.

Eye strain affects academics

While something like a  toothache is an obvious indicator of a dental problem, signs of a vision problem can be more subtle.

“More often than not, vision problems go unnoticed until children begin school,” said Marcela Frazier, O.D, Associate Professor of Ophthalmology in the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Department of Ophthalmology.

“Children grow up naturally adapting to vision issues, so when they get into school and start reading and learning, that is when parents and teachers begin to notice certain problems,” she said.

But even a slight change in vision can lead to eye strain and affect a child’s performance in school, says Frazier.

Nine signs

If your child appears to be falling behind in school or struggling in sports, it might be time to have your child’s eyes checked out by a trained professional.

“Vision isn’t the first culprit parents think of when their child is struggling in school, but it can be playing a part in their child’s poor school or sports performance,” Frazier said.

Here are nine signs your child may need an eye exam, according to UAB physicians:

  • Complaining of headaches. Squinting and straining to focus can cause headaches over extended periods of time.

  • Fatigue after reading. If cracking open a book leads to symptoms of eye fatigue for your child (tired, burning, or itching eyes), it may be time to head to the eye doctor.

  • Poor sports performance. If your normally skilled sports player is showing signs of clumsiness, poor hand-eye coordination, skewed depth perception or inability to focus, eye problems could be the culprit.

  • Squinting. The act of squinting is a subconscious attempt to make the pupil smaller, therefore restricting the amount of light it receives and enhancing a blurry image. If you notice your child squinting or closing one eye, they might need glasses.

  • Blinking or rubbing eyes. If your child rubs their eyes while trying to concentrate on reading or another activity, vision problems could be at play.

  • Poor reading ability and comprehension. Reading the same sentence multiple times, disinterest in reading, and getting sidetracked easily are all signs of a vision issue.

  • Poor school performance. Because kids don’t have a concept of poor vision, they might not tell you when they can’t read the blackboard -- but suffering grades can suggest they are having a hard time reading what their teacher writes.

  • Holding electronic devices or books too close. Drawing reading material close to the eyes or sitting too close to the TV can mean a child is living with nearsightedness.

Loss of place while reading. Kids who have already learned how to read should be able to focus on the text without using a finger to track the words.

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