kid in school

Back-to-school means a lot of things: new clothes, a new backpack, and a new teacher. It means time spent sitting in classrooms, completing homework, and researching on the computer.

One essential item that’s left off many back-to-school checklists? Routine eye care.

Having unclear or unbalanced vision between your eyes can make school work an even bigger challenge. When vision isn’t clear, or both eyes don’t work as a team, school tasks such as reading the chalk board or completing homework can lead to visual (eye) strain, headaches, and double vision.

Each year, school nurses conduct basic health screenings for students, including vision screenings. These screenings serve as indicators of severe vision problems; however, developing vision problems can sometimes go undetected because they have no outward symptoms. Scott Drexler, OD, an American Optometric Association member, warns that one in four children have an undiagnosed vision problem simply because they may not recognize that their eyesight isn’t optimal or is changing.

Comprehensive eye exams are one of the most important back to school preparations a parent can schedule to help maximize their child’s education, contribute to overall health and well-being, and make the back to school transition as smooth as possible. Some vision problems may not have warning signs and parents and educators often incorrectly assume that if a child passes a school screening, their vision is fine.”

If you have older school-aged children they should be able to let you know if they are having difficulty seeing. Younger children, however, often aren’t aware that there is an issue with their vision. You can help detect potential visual problems by looking for:

  • Rubbing of the eyes
  • Excessive blinking
  • Reading slowly
  • Using fingers as a place holder while reading
  • Poor hand-eye coordination

It’s important to catch vision problems early. Most learning is presented visually, and not addressing visual problems may result in lower grades, reading difficulty, behavior problems, and low self-esteem.

Uncorrected vision doesn’t just contribute to academic difficulties. It can also lead to problems in athletics. Student athletes with unclear vision often have coordination issues as well as difficulty seeing the ball, teammates, or goal, ultimately leading to increased frustration and embarrassment.

While some academic and performance difficulties may be attributed to a larger issue it’s important to rule out vision issues first. With an exam, an eye doctor may be able to prescribe glasses or lenses that may be able to ease the problem.

Pink Eye Symptoms and Prevention

Back-to-school season is also when eye doctors see an increased number of cases of conjunctivitis, or pink eye. Spread through physical contact, pink eye is the most common eye condition for school-aged children. Lasting approximately one week, pink eye symptoms can include:

  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Inflammation
  • Tearing or mucous discharge

Pink eye can be treated by antibiotics, and once students have been on medication for about 24 hours they are usually permitted to return to school.

To help prevent initial infection, encourage your children to:

  • Wash their hands frequently
  • Avoid touching their eyes
  • Never share makeup
  • Change pillowcase
  • Don’t share towels

To help your child start back to school on the right foot, schedule an appointment with one of the eye doctors at the UPMC Eye Center by calling 412-647-2200. Visit the UPMC Eye Center online to learn more about eye care and eye health.