The Eyes Have It: Exams Before School Pay Off

Eleven years ago, Kentucky became the first state in the country to mandate that children aged 3-6 years old have eye exams before enrolling in school.

The goal was two-fold: improve student learning and improve eye health for children.

On both scores, this law puts Kentucky in the forefront of eyecare, according to Dr. Rick Graebe, a Versailles optometrist.

“This is one reason why people consider Kentucky one of the best places to be an optometrist,” he said.
“How valuable is it that children get their eyes checked? It’s priceless.”

In terms of general eye health, the mandated exams – which take about 45 minutes and are usually covered by  most medical insurance – can detect such serious problems as amblyopia (lazy eye), cataracts and glaucoma.

Glaucoma – abnormally high fluid pressure in the eye – is one of the leading causes of blindness. And because onset is preceded by no symptoms or pain, it’s often called the “sneak thief of sight.”

But once diagnosed, it’s easily treated and controlled with medication.

The same is true for lazy eye, a surprisingly common ailment. Every year in the U.S., approximately 75,000 preschoolers are diagnosed, and up to five times that many are not caught, Graebe said.

A thorough eye exam will catch this condition, which also is easily treated by Graebe’s specialty – Vision Therapy, a type of physical therapy for the eyes and brain.

Early examination and treatment also make for better students, Graebe said.

“Because about 85% of learning at school comes through the visual system, sending a child to school with vision problems is like sending him to school without books,” he said.

“Often young kids who may have blurred vision or see double don’t know any different.

“That’s why these exams are so important. And our eye exams are as complete as any and more complete than most.”