Seeing the benefits of comprehensive eye exams

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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — There are so many things to do to get ready to go back to school, and it can be easy for some things to slip through the cracks — like a proper eye exam for your kids.

Studies show poor vision can be linked to poor performance in school. Optometrists say with the rise in kids' technology use, kids are facing more demand with their eyes than ever before.

It's a concern that can be simply addressed with an eye doctor, but optometrists say kids rarely speak up to parents, teachers or eye doctors about bad vision.

The Crosby family lives in central Indiana and gets annual eye exams at "Little Eyes Pediatric Eye Care in Carmel. Deanne Crosby has four children: Addison, Olivia, Presley and Colin. They're all headed back to school, and mom knows the importance of taking the time out for eye exams.

"With eyes, they're so important with their learning," Deanne said. "There's a lot that can happen if they can't see."

Learning becomes understandably difficult if students can't see the board or read their books.

When Deanne's daughter Olivia was in first grade, they discovered she was far-sighted in an eye exam — she had trouble seeing things clearly close-up.

It was surprising and not ideal for reading and writing, so the family made the decision to get glasses, which made a big difference. Olivia eventually grew out of needed glasses, but it was helpful while it lasted.

"It's normal growth," said Dr. Katherine Schuetz. "We hope that every kid is a little bit far-sighted when we see them at age 4 or 5 and then they'll grow out of it into a perfect eye as the eye elongates and they get taller."

Schuetz went on to say that kids who have perfect eyesight from a young age often end up later becoming near-sighted because their eyes also elongate. That's why annual check-ups with an optometrist are important.

"We're so grateful to school systems who do screenings and pediatricians who do very good screenings," Schuetz said. "But much of that is based on how the kid responds and what letters they can read."

Schuetz said it's not uncommon for kids to squint through screenings at school or with pediatricians because they don't want to "fail." But with a comprehensive eye exam, the tools an eye doctor uses make objective measurements that dictate the true results.

If it turns out kids need corrective lenses, contacts are an option for those who would rather not wear frames. As for corrective eye surgery, it's a great option, but only once they're at least 18. Shuetz said eyes continue to grow and change throughout childhood, so a procedure like Lasik wouldn't be recommended for adolescent eyes.

Experts recommend for every 20 minutes you're looking at something up-close, look at something 20 feet away for at least a minute. (WTHR graphic)
Experts recommend for every 20 minutes you're looking at something up-close, look at something 20 feet away for at least a minute. (WTHR graphic)

Even if children can manage looking at things up-close all day, Schuetz says that's not recommended. Everyone, including kids, needs to take breaks from looking at things up-close. Schuetz likes the 20-20 rule: for every 20 minutes you're looking at something close to your face, you need to look at something at least 20 feet away for at least a minute.

While scheduling eye exams for four children prior to school starting each year may be a bit of a hassle, Deanne says it's worth it.

"It's worth it to me to have that reassurance that they'll be fine in school and be able to keep up and not have anything holding them back."

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