Keeping an Eye on the Prize

How eye exams can help set children up for success

photo of Dr. Cohen and patient

Did your child’s back-to-school list include an eye exam? It should have.

The American Optometry Association estimates that 1 in 4 children has a vision-related condition.

“Poor vision directly affects learning,” said Raneat Cohen, OD, optometrist at MU Health Care. “Children become frustrated when they can’t see clearly and their learning and attention span can suffer.”

Common childhood eye conditions include eye turn, lazy eye, tearing problems and poor vision. When caught early, many of these issues can be corrected or effectively treated.

“Most of the time, the solution is easy,” said Kelli Shaon, OD, optometrist at MU Health Care. “If we can intervene at a young age, we can often achieve amazing results.”

Optometrists recommend comprehensive vision screenings for children as young as 6 months old. Studies show that 60 percent of students identified as problem learners have undetected vision troubles.

The best way to identify and diagnose these is through a comprehensive eye exam.

“Many times parents don’t come in until they see a problem,” Shaon said. “Unfortunately, vision issues are often hidden so there’s no way to diagnose them without a screening.”

The University of Missouri’s Mason Eye Institute provides expert care tailored to children. Pediatric vision exams are offered at the University Eye Institute East offices, conveniently located across the street from MU Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Columbia.

Kid-friendly offices complete with multiple TV screens and a play area help decrease the stress of a pediatric eye exam.

“Parents with young children are often nervous about eye exams,” Cohen said. “They worry about, ‘How is my child going to sit still?’ and ‘What if the doctor can’t get everything she needs to see?’ ”

At University Eye Institute East, an energetic staff works together to make pediatric patients feel comfortable. Children can even watch cartoons while getting their eyes examined.

“Poor vision directly affects learning. Children become frustrated when they can’t see clearly and their learning and attention span can suffer.” Raneat Cohen, OD, optometrist at MU Health Care

Comprehensive pediatric screenings typically take 30 to 45 minutes and include a case history discussion, vision testing, eye alignment check, eye health evaluation and, if needed, a prescription for eyewear.

If your child does need glasses, more than 100 sets of children’s frames are available in Mizzou Optical, conveniently located within Eye Institute East.

“Making sure your child’s glasses fit properly is essential,” Shaon said. “We’re the best in the area at fitting children and meeting their unique needs.”

Cohen said that she sees children at least once per week whose lives have been positively changed because of issues discovered during comprehensive eye exams.

“Parents are always amazed at the quick results,” she said. “They’ll come to me and say they have a whole new child — they’re doing better in school, playing with others and making eye contact.”

Not only can eye exams lead to improved vision, they can also uncover maladies throughout the body.

“It’s not uncommon for us to find other issues based on a vision exam,” Shaon said. “Nearly one-third of my day or more is spent working on screening for issues beyond the vision exam.”

One such screening led to the discovery of a serious condition named hydrocephalus, or fluid on a person’s brain.

“During a routine dilation exam, I was able to look in my patient’s eyes and I found she had swollen optic nerves in both eyes,” Shaon said. “Swollen optic nerves can be indicative of fluid build-up around the brain, infection or inflammation. Because our clinics are a part of MU Health Care, we easily referred the child to the correct specialist.”

At University Eye Institute East, optometrists are committed to giving children their best chance to succeed.

“As parents, we worry about every facet of our children’s lives,” Cohen said. “Let us help take that worry away from you when it comes to their vision. Let us figure it out.”