Australian kids are being urged to sit their first exam before the holidays are over to ensure they start school on an equal footing.
The peak national body for optometrists, Optometry Australia, says that if children are starting school for the first time, an eye examination is one of the most important items to tick off the back-to-school list.
"In Australia, approximately one in five children suffers from an undetected vision problem, and it's our mission to reduce this," said Luke Arundel, resident optometrist at Optometry Australia.
"Left undetected, vision problems can make school years difficult. Imagine your child sitting in a classroom and not being able to clearly see the blackboard or trying to catch a ball when they can't properly see the person throwing it.
"Some children are inaccurately labelled as slow learners, lacking confidence or even troublemakers when they actually have an undetected vision condition which can be identified and corrected with a simple visit to the optometrist," he said.
"While some signs of vision problems are obvious, others are harder to identify, and children at a young age usually can't tell there is anything wrong as they assume everyone sees the world as they do."
A boom in childhood myopia – or short sightedness – is a major contributing factor with more children than ever at risk of developing poor vision through a variety of factors including increased screen time and decreased 'green time' (time spent outdoors). And myopia, particularly in children, is growing at astonishing rates, while the rate of children having eye examinations is modest in comparison.
This makes it crucial for children to have a full eye examination with an optometrist before starting school and then regular visits as they progress through primary and secondary school, as part of their general health regime.
Optometry Australia recommends that all children have a full eye examination with an optometrist before starting school and regularly (every two to three years) as they progress through primary and secondary school.
Some signs of vision problems in children can include:
• Noticeable tilting or turning of the head when the child is looking at something
• Frequent blinking or rubbing of the eyes
• Red or watery eyes
• Difficulty reading, such as skipping and confusing words, and holding a book very close while reading
• Complaints of headaches and blurred or double vision
• Squinting or having difficulty recognising things or people in the distance
• One eye turning in or out while the other points straight ahead
To find an optometrist near you, visit www.goodvisionforlife.com.au and use the Find an Optometrist search function.