School is back in session, and you know what that means: it’s time for students to visit the doctor for vision and hearing screenings. If that’s not your first thought when you hear “back to school,” you can be sure it’s not your patients’ either. That’s why proactive patient education is especially vital at this time of year. After all, undiagnosed vision and hearing problems can profoundly impact a child’s learning. And because of technology use, certain health issues affecting the eyes and ears are on the rise. What you need to let your patients, and their parents, know.
Eye exams more important than ever
Back-to-school eye exams are more important than ever for a specific reason: increased screen use. Smartphones and tablets are now ever-present among teens and schoolchildren, both at home and in the classroom. These devices have an impact on users’ blink rate and tear production, and can even cause symptoms of dry eye disease in young people with otherwise healthy eyes. The long-term effects on children’s eyes are not yet fully known.
Increased screen use during the pandemic has impacted children’s vision. It’s more important than ever to get a comprehensive eye exam by an eye care professional.
One of the increasingly prevalent issues impacting vision is myopia, or nearsightedness. Published evidence has shown that more time spent indoors and excessive “near work” activities, such as working on computers and reading, increase the risk of myopia. During COVID-19, school closures and distance learning required many children to spend more time online, putting their eye health at risk.
The message to patients should be that the most important thing to do is to have a comprehensive eye exam performed by an eye care professional. You can also share with patients healthy eye tips for screen users, and show videos on your website and in your waiting room such as:
Why school screenings don’t cut it
Many parents assume that screenings done at school are sufficient. However, school vision screenings miss up to 75% of children with vision problems and give less than 4% of the information provided by a comprehensive eye exam by an eye care professional, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA).
Not all states mandate vision screening for school-age children. And school screenings miss up to 75% of children with vision problems.
And many school children in the U.S. do not receive timely vision screenings or access to professional eye care. The COVID-19 pandemic and school closures only worsened this fact. As of 2020, only 40 states mandated some type of vision screening for school-age children and 26 states required vision screening for preschool-age children, according to the report, “Children’s Vision and Eye Health: A Snapshot of Current National Issues 2nd Edition,” from the National Center for Children’s Vision and Eye Health at Prevent Blindness (NCCVEH). The report found that:
- Vision disorders are the fourth most common disability in the U.S.
- 1 in 4 school-age children has some form of vision problem requiring treatment.
- Untreated amblyopia, sometimes called “lazy eye,” is the most common cause of vision loss in children.
- Black or African-American and Hispanic children have a greater incidence of refractive errors and strabismus. This is significant because the U.S. population has become much more diverse.
How hearing screening helps
Just as important as screening children’s vision is testing for any hearing issues. As the Centers for Disease Control notes, “Hearing screening, especially at an early age, provides the opportunity to detect a student’s hearing loss or previously unrecognized hearing loss and intervene to limit further loss and improve learning.”
Parents may not realize the frequency of screening recommendations. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, hearing screening should be conducted:
- At school entry for all children
- At least once at ages 6, 8, and 10
- At least once during middle school
- At least once during high school
- For any student entering a new school system without evidence of a previous hearing screening
Increased use of technology also affects hearing; 1 in 5 teens has some form of hearing loss today, about a 30% higher rate than in the past.
Also let patients and their parents know that screening may be required more often for children with other known health or learning needs; speech, language, or developmental delays; or a family history of early hearing loss.
Once again, the increasing use of technology is a factor. One in five teens has some form of hearing loss today, about a 30% higher rate than in the 1980s and 1990s, reports the American Osteopathic Association. Many experts believe this is due in part to the increased use of headphones.
“Listening through headphones at a high volume for extended periods of time can result in lifelong hearing loss for children and teens,” according to James E. Foy, D.O. “Even a mild hearing loss due to excessive noise could lead to developmental delays in speech and language.”
Patients, especially young ones, may not know the proper volume to prevent hearing loss, or realize that some hearing loss may not have obvious warning signs. Emphasize the need for a hearing test and examination by a trained medical provider. Your patient education can include videos like this one below:
Back-to-school is the perfect time to step up your patient education efforts and make sure the community knows what your practice offers and how you can help students be successful in the classroom this year.
Read more on utilizing engaging patient education with your pediatric patients and families by downloading our Mastering Pediatric Appointments: A Guide for ENT Doctors whitepaper!