How close to the TV do your kids sit? Have you noticed a little extra eye rubbing lately? Both are signs of vision impairment, according to Douglas R. Fredrick, MD, clinical professor of ophthalmology and pediatrics at Stanford University, who says that parents should “make sure [their kid’s] vision is screened by a pediatrician or his or her school district every year, starting at the age of 4.” The American Academy of Ophthalmology reports vision problems in one in 20 preschoolers and a quarter of all school-age children. September is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month; as your young ones slip on their backpacks and trudge back to school, check out these tips for ensuring the safety and health of their windows to the world.

  • “Teacher, I can’t see the board.”  Children who are constantly saying their eyes feel tired or have to squint in order to see the chalkboard should have their eyes checked by a vision professional. “The most common vision problem children get is myopia, or nearsightedness, which usually happens between the ages of 8 and 12,” says Dr. Fredrick. Experts say that difficulty seeing the pictures or words in a book can affect learning and school performance but stress that it’s important to differentiate these problems from learning disorders.
  • Too Young for Contacts?  There is no specific age minimum for wearing contact lenses, but children may have a harder time getting used to the discipline of cleaning and caring for them. Still, an Ohio State University study showed that many children between 8 and 11 years old have no problem taking care of their lenses. Daily disposable lenses make upkeep easier and allow kids to start with a fresh pair every day, but they’re generally more expensive than glasses or contacts that are worn for two weeks. Parents should take an active role in making sure that children who wear contacts properly care for them each day in order to prevent infection and damage to the eye.
  • Grandma, Mom, Me  Many vision problems, such as astigmatisms (blurred vision from an irregularly shaped cornea), crossed eyes and lazy eyes can be hereditary. If there is a family history of any of these conditions, have your child’s eyes examined as early as possible. “It’s much easier and more likely to be treatable if you discover a lazy eye early,” Dr. Fredrick says. 
  • Safety First Young athletes need extra eye protection on the court or field in the form of eye guards to shield them from the threat of fly balls, racquet handles and finger and elbow pokes. Prevent Blindness America offers tips on buying protective eye wear for children who play sports. Also, parents should set an example for kids by using safety goggles when operating power tools or lawn equipment at home. “If your children see you doing that, they’re more likely to do it themselves,” says  Dr. Fredrick. “Eye safety begins at home.”