By Guest Blogger Kathleen Thorell

If you are like me, you assume that the vision screening they perform at your children’s pediatrician office and school are all they need, right? When my two oldest children passed these screenings with no problems, I quickly moved on to other things to worry about! Well, I recently learned that these screenings were not sufficient for my 6 year son, Michael.

I will give you some background first. For the past year, Michael has been getting increasing migraines. He would suddenly have terrible head pain, need to lie on the couch, was sensitive to light and sound, and often was nauseous and occasionally threw up. They were always late afternoon and he would go to bed and sleep it off till the following morning. I thought it could be dehydration so I upped his water intake and also made sure he ate regularly. It was hard to tell if that made a difference, but he was only getting them about once a month so I did not fret too much. Everything I had read said that his symptoms were not cause for alarm.

Then this Spring the migraines increased. He started having about three a month. Many times he had been on his IPod or watching TV, and electronics are known to trigger migraines. So we cut back on electronics and didn’t allow him to use his IPod in the car. This helped a little, but I still was concerned by the increase in frequency so I took him to the pediatrician. His doctor felt that yes, he was having migraines, but that he was not alarmed. He gave me some treatment options and suggested I take him for a comprehensive optometric exam. He stated that sometimes children strain to see clearly and this can bring on the migraines.

Michael had never complained about his vision. My husband or I do not wear glasses. The doctor had casually mentioned the eye exam, so I didn’t jump too fast to make an appointment. Summer came and we got busy and Michael wasn’t having migraines. Then Michael had an art camp. I suppose he was really concentrating, because every day after camp he would complain about blurry and double vision. One day he said “Mom, I see ghosts of things.” I immediately thought of The Sixth Sense and got scared! I asked what he meant and he said, “I see my leg but there is a double. I reach for the outside leg and my hand goes right through it…it’s my ghost leg!” Ok, now I was concerned! I asked if he had ever had trouble seeing at school and he said no. “How about during T-ball?” I asked. Michael thought for a minute and then replied, “Well, there was the time I was playing second base and George hit and I saw two of him running to first.” I was shocked. “What about the ball on the tee, did you have trouble seeing that?” He said, ‘Yeah, a lot of times there were 2 of them.” Michael had over 20 games and never said a word.

Well then I could not get him an appointment at the eye doctor fast enough! Sure enough, we left the appointment the next day with a prescription for glasses. A keratometer, an instrument that measures the curvature of the cornea, revealed he had astigmatism in both eyes. Astigmatism is when the cornea has an irregular shape that can cause blurred vision. The eye exam also showed he was farsighted. In other words, objects in the distance are seen more clearly than those up close. The optometrist suggested he wear glasses for reading, school work, TV, and electronics. While Michael was picking out his new glasses I expressed my surprise to the employee helping us that the pediatrician/school screenings had not detected his vision problem. She stated that the vision screenings do not detect astigmatisms because they do not use keratometers. She also stated that screenings were not reliable in detecting farsightedness. What?? I looked up farsightedness on the American Optometric Association website when I got home. Sure enough, it stated, “Common vision screenings, often done in schools, are generally ineffective in detecting farsightedness.” Who knew? Maybe everyone other than me, but I sure felt silly.

Michael has had his glasses for a month and guess what? No migraines! A frequently listed symptom of astigmatism and farsightedness is headaches. Maybe the true test will be when he returns to school…remember his migraines decreased once school ended. Michael took a week or 2 to get used to his glasses, but now he wears them all day long. That tells me he really needs glasses and is comfortable in them because they HELP his vision and probably make seeing so much easier! And in case you are wondering, they make glasses very flexible and durable for boys who like to be boys.

So if you have any concern about your child’s eyesight, go get a comprehensive optometric exam. Remember that your child may not have the vocabulary to describe his or her vision problems, so you may have to get creative with your questions. For example:

• Point to a line and ask if he/she sees one or two?
• Watch them while they are reading or concentrating on something. Before glasses we noticed Michael blinking while watching TV, but we honestly thought it was a Tic. We asked him why he was blinking and he said it made his eyes feel better. Probe a little deeper than we did if you can!
• If they play sports, ask about trouble seeing the ball or other players.

Lastly, check into your insurance coverage. We do not have any additional vision plan (that will be changing) but our basic insurance covers one eye exam a year. It’s worth the peace of mind to know your child can see well and in our case, greatly reduce or eliminate migraines. I wish that I had known all this a year ago. The expression “hindsight is 20/20” has never been more appropriate!