By Dr. Katherine Rispoli

School supplies – check. New clothes – check. Sports physicals – check. Eye exam – wait. Eye exam? Is that on your back-to-school list for your kids? If it’s not, it should be.

According to the American Optometrist Association, about 25 percent of school-aged children have undiagnosed vision problems that inhibit their ability to read properly or cause fatigue, among other effects. Parents and teachers may mistake these symptoms for the child not getting enough sleep, being dehydrated or, unfortunately, not focusing.

If we risk our eye sight, we risk losing a lot. Eighty percent of learning is through our visual system. Make sure your child’s eyes are healthy and ready to process all they need to in school. Here are five tips to keep in mind as the new school year gets underway:

  1. Have your child get a comprehensive eye exam. Sure, your kids get their eyes checked by the school nurse, but that does not compare to a comprehensive eye exam done at an eye doctor’s office. Eye doctors can diagnose nearsightedness, farsightedness, eye alignment, and focusing problems before signs of learning difficulties start to show up. Eye doctors can also diagnose underlying health issues such as diabetes and hypertension. Children as young as six months can be seen to check for issues. All children should have an eye exam at three years old; starting at five years old, they should have a regular eye exam every year. These ages are recommended but if you suspect a problem, you can take your child to the eye doctor at any age.
  2. Encourage children to wash their hands. Once the kids are back in school, germs spread quickly. One study, in the American Journal of Infection Control, shows 164 million school days are missed due to the spread of infectious diseases. Three million of those missed days are due to viral conjunctivitis or “pink eye.” Remind your kids to wash their hands regularly and encourage them not to touch their eyes – both can limit the spread of germs.
  3. Protect kids’ eyes. It’s important to wear protective eyewear when playing sports and sunglasses when out in the sun. The National Eye Institute estimates 42,000 kids get eye injuries every year while playing sports. Remind them to use protective eyewear such as goggles or face shields to help reduce the risk of an eye injury. Any question of a concussion injury should be checked so quick treatment can be given. Kids should wear high SPF prescription glasses or sunglasses. Too much sun exposure can lead to vision problems later in life, including cataracts and macular degeneration.
  4. Give children’s eyes a rest. With more school districts using computers, tablets, and iPads to help with daily instruction, kids are getting a lot of screen time (not to mention playing on screens at home). Too much screen time can cause headaches, blurred vision, or even nearsightedness. Invest in glare-reducing screen covers and instill the 20/20/20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look away at a distance of 20 feet for 20 seconds. Ask your eye doctor about blue light blocking lenses for computer use, which will reduce strain, help with sleep, and decrease the chance of long term retinal damage.
  5. Whip up healthy meals. Make sure your kids get plenty of nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, lycopene, beta-carotene, and omega-3 fatty acids. All of these play an important role in eye health. Visit for eye-healthy smoothie recipes.

If at any time you suspect your child may be having vision issues, please consult your family eye doctor. Help your child do their best in school by making sure they are “eyeready” to learn!

Dr. Katherine Rispoli, of Vision Source Specs Eyecare in Middletown, has a Doctor of Optometry degree from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry and 32 years of experience in the field. For 12 years, she served as co-chair of the RI Vision USA Project, a charity program of the American Optometric Association, and has served on the board of the Rhode Island Optometric Association.