Don’t get blindsided by all your back to school to dos! Schedule appointments before the back to school chaos begins. The best time to schedule an eye exam is during the summer months leading up to the start of the new school year. Late to mid-July and August are perfect times because it will ensure your child starts the school year with the most up-to-date prescription and have clear vision to allow them to perform at their best.
Eye exams performed by an eye doctor are recommended on a yearly basis for all school aged children. It is a common misconception that if a child passes the vision screening done at school, then no vision problems exist. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. A child who can see 20/20 may still have a vision problem. School screenings may miss certain vision problems such hyperopia, problems with depth perception, or binocular vision problems- where the two eyes do not work together as a team.
If you are not sure if your child has vision problems here are some common signs:
· Frequent squinting, blinking, or eye rubbing
· Avoiding reading and other close activities
· Experiencing frequent headaches
· Holding reading material or digital devices close to their face
· Sitting too close to the television
· Covering one eye, or an eye that turns in or out
· Double vision
· Losing their place when reading or skipping lines
Once your child has had an eye exam and it has been determined that they do need glasses, there are many things to consider especially if it will be their first pair. The most important considerations are lens material, frame type, and lens coatings.
Polycarbonate is the lens material of choice due to its impact resistance, meaning it will not shatter or scratch when hit as would regular plastic or glass lenses. It also allows the lenses to be thinner and lighter than regular plastic lenses, making it easier for new wearers to adjust.
When choosing a frame, it is important to allow the child to choose something they like so they will be excited about wearing their glasses, however, making sure the frame properly fits the child is essential. Children are still growing and therefore, most do not have prominent or fully developed nose bridges. Without a well-developed bridge there is nothing to support the glasses and prevent them from sliding down their nose, in this case, metal frames with adjustable nose pads are a great option. Plastic frames can be an excellent option as well, as long as they are specifically designed as a child’s frame and have a small bridge. Each frame should be tried on and evaluated on the child’s face to ensure there are no spaces between the bridge of the frame, and the bridge of the nose. A well-skilled optician will take in to account the child’s prescription, the weight and thickness of the lenses, and how the frame sits on the child’s face to determine the best frame for that child. These points are well-known among skilled eye care professionals and recommended practice when gauging proper fit of eyewear. Children require special attention due to their unique physical characteristics.
Lens Coatings and Treatments
Other things to consider are lens coatings such as anti-glare and photochromic treatments that allow the lens to change from light to dark in response to sunlight. Anti-glare coatings are excellent in reducing the glare reflected from computer screens, digital devices, and even the light reflected off the bright white pages of text books. This glare can cause eye strain and headaches making it harder to concentrate. Another great option for children is the lenses that change from dark to light when exposed to ultraviolet light. Most parents already know the importance of protecting your child’s skin from the sun with sunscreen, but it is equally important to protect their eyes. It is never too early to start protecting their eyes from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation, which is responsible for the development of diseases such as macular degeneration, pinguecula (a growth near the edge of the cornea), and long term development of cataracts. Photochromic lenses are perfect for protecting the eyes when children are playing outside or participating in sports or other extra-curricular activities.
One final note I recommend for all children is an additional back-up pair of glasses. Kids are kids and we know they will inadvertently break or lose their glasses. Having a back-up pair will ensure that if an accident happens they will continue to have clear vision.
When is an appropriate age to begin contact lens wear?
I recommend starting at age 13 for most children. The most important factor in determining when a child can start to wear contact lenses is the maturity level of the child. Wearing contact lenses is a big responsibility and we want to make sure the child is ready for that commitment. They will need to have good hygiene habits and be able to follow the wear and care instructions. For children the best option is a daily contact lens that is thrown away at the end of the day. This allows the child to start each day with a fresh, clean pair of contact lenses and minimizes the chances for infections and contact lens related complications.