Now that our kids are back to school it is important for parents to feel confident that their child is seeing clearly to optimize his or her learning experience. An estimated 80 percent of information processed in school is through vision. When most people think about seeing clearly, they think of visual acuity, or being able to see “20/20.”
Refractive conditions such as farsightedness (hyperopia), nearsightedness (myopia) and astigmatism (typically from irregular or non-spherical shaped cornea) can cause a reduction in visual acuity or clarity of images at different viewing distances. Your eye doctor can prescribe glasses and/or contact lenses to treat these conditions. However, much more is involved in achieving clear, comfortable vision than just being able to see “20/20.” Complex eye focusing, tracking and teaming processes within our visual system enable us to experience and maintain clear and comfortable vision throughout the day. These processes are related to our binocular vision — the ability to use both eyes together to achieve a single image or percept. The binocular vision system can be broken down into different areas of function: ocular posture (eye alignment), accommodation (focusing ability and stamina), ocular motility (accuracy of eye movements and visual tracking) and vergences, both inward-convergence and outward-divergence (ability to coordinate the eyes during movement). Stereopsis, or three-dimensional viewing ability, also is an important binocular vision skill that enables children to detect subtle differences in depth perception. Children who have a deficiency in one or more of these areas may exhibit symptoms when reading including blurred vision that goes in and out of focus, skipping words on the page, losing their place, covering an eye, seeing two images or double vision, or complaints of tired eyes or headaches. In the classroom, children may experience difficulty switching focus from their desk to the board. They also may have trouble catching a ball, balancing or judging depth. Binocular vision dysfunction can affect any child, but in particular may run in families, be associated with delayed development, or be present with conditions such as attention deficit disorder or cerebral palsy. If you, a family member, or teacher observe your child experiencing any of these symptoms or suspect a potential binocular vision problem, it is important to share your concerns with your eye doctor who will be able to assess these areas more accurately. If a binocular vision deficit is found, treatment options vary depending on the condition. In some cases, glasses may be prescribed to enhance focusing skills. Prism may be added to glasses to help with an eye misalignment or coordination issue to help keep the eyes working together. Vision therapy or orthoptics also may be prescribed along with a referral to a developmental optometrist who specializes in these services. Binocular vision plays a critical role in visual tracking skills, reading, hand-eye coordination, maintaining attention, and can be involved with visual processing deficits. It is one of the many aspects of vision that optometrists check when doing an eye exam. We love to see children because nothing is more gratifying than ensuring that our precious children are happy, healthy, and seeing their best!