Focus: Summer the perfect time to check kids’ eyes

Dr. Kim Baxter of North Platte said catching eye disease early is vital and a comprehensive exam provides the insight to a child’s eye health to prevent long-term damage.

A comprehensive eye exam before students head back to school could play a vital part in determining any eye health issues that impact their education.

Dr. Eric Gengenbach, president of the Nebraska Optometric Association, encourages parents to start the next school year on a healthy note by scheduling comprehensive eye exams a priority this summer and maintaining proper eye health throughout the year.

“Undetected and untreated vision problems can interfere with a child’s ability to learn in school and participate in sports and other activities. The earlier a vision problem is diagnosed and treated, the less it will impact an individual’s quality of life,” Dr. Gengenbach said. “From ages 6 to 18, a child’s vision can change frequently or unexpectedly which can lead to behavioral and attention issues in the classroom.”

One in every four children suffers from a visual problem, Gengenbach said.

“That includes the eye conditions related to eye-teaming, eye-focusing, and general ocular health conditions,” Gengenback said.

There are several eye conditions that he runs across in children, said Kim Baxter, a North Platte optometrist with Complete Eye Care Associates.

“One of the more common things we run across that can be permanently disabling to the vision is amblyopia,” Baxter said. “Amblyopia can come from an eye turn, which would be cosmetically noticeable.”

Baxter said amblyopia, also known as lazy eye, can also happen if one eye has a lot higher correction for glasses than the other.

“That can go undetected because the child will tend to function normally because they have good vision in one eye,” Baxter said. “It’s treatable, but the younger they are when we catch it, the better.”

Children as young as 3 can show signs of eye disease, and Baxter said it’s important to intercept some of those problems as early as possible.

“Obviously, vision is much deeper than just how well are we seeing,” Gengenbach said. “There are several ocular conditions that can affect a child’s performance in the classroom that are easily missed in a screening.”

Those conditions, Gengenbach said, include eye-teaming or how well the eyes work together; eye-focusing — think of being unable to focus a pair binoculars — and internal ocular health like retinal detachments, ocular tumors and systemic diseases, which can all be detected in otherwise healthy-seeming eyes.

While schools, local health fairs put on by hospitals, social service agencies or fraternal groups typically offer basic vision screenings, a comprehensive eye exam is the only way to detect serious eye health issues, Gengenbach said.

“That really brings it home to me why comprehensive eye exams are imperative to fully assess a child’s complete visual system,” Gengenbach said.

There is some concern about the time young people spend on electronic devices, but Baxter said there is no conclusive data to indicate eye health is affected negatively.

“There has not been any research that has proven it is damaging to the eyes,” Baxter said. “One thing that happens for sure with both kids and adults is the more time they spend on their devices, the drier their eyes become.”

Baxter said the blink rate goes down when there is excessive use of phones, video games and other devices.

“At least temporarily while people are looking at their devices, their vision becomes blurred,” Baxter said. “I’d recommend with kids to have their time limited on these devices if they’re having those kinds of problems.”

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