Back to school time is nearly here. Parents will soon be buying notebooks and uniforms, book bags and pencil sharpeners. While there’s lots of attention on the external things that students need to return to school, most families forget that vision is critical to a child’s success in the classroom. Early detection and treatment are key in correcting vision problems and helping students see clearly. This means that yearly eye exams for students are essential. Computers are common in schools now and three-dimensional imaging is making its way from the TV screen at home into the classroom. Virtual tours of historic sites, the beating human heart or plant cell division are just a few of the topics that can be presented in 3D. But not everyone can see in 3D. Some people have binocular vision which prevents them from viewing 3D images. Arab News spoke with Los Angeles-based optometrist Dr. Fouad Melamed, who has a doctorate in both vision disorders and eye health disorders. In particular, he has experience in the area of vision therapy, which helps children overcome such disorders as Strabismus, commonly called crossed or wandering eyes, and Amblyopia, known as lazy eye. Dr. Melamed is a member of the California Optometric Association, which is reaching out, encouraging parents everywhere to get their children’s vision checked. According to the California Optometric Association, up to 25 percent of school children have undetected vision problems. Having low-tech vision in a 3D world could hamper learning and even lead to physical discomfort. Strabismus is a misalignment of the eyes in which one or both eyes may turn inward, outward, up or down. Amblyopia is a condition in which vision doesn’t develop normally during childhood. This leaves the child with one weak eye with poor vision and one strong eye with normal vision. Students may also need prescription lenses to see their world clearly. Any of these conditions, uncorrected, may make it impossible for students to use 3D technology, read, view projections at the front of the classroom or participate successfully in sporting activities. “Unfortunately, many of these eye conditions are not diagnosed because there isn’t a vision and eye health exam by a competent eye doctor,” said Dr. Melamed. “Much of it is missed. Only the very extreme eye turns are noticed by parents. But the vast majority of children go undiagnosed because most of the vision loss occurs in just one eye. The child will go year after year with the condition possibly worsening. When children do have problems learning, sometimes the parents and teachers are unable to correlate the learning difficulties to a vision disorder.” Undiagnosed vision disorders can cause a lot of unnecessary misery. Dr. Melamed has seen children who have been held back a grade in school. Vision disorders often manifest in poor reading ability and uncompetitive performance in sports as well as low self-esteem; all problems that could follow a child throughout life. So much suffering could be halted if parents and teachers would look for the simple signs which may indicate that a child has a vision disorder. These include: • Returning from viewing a 3D movie feeling dizzy, nauseous or with a headache. • Not noticing the difference between 2D and 3D images. • Difficulty hitting, kicking or catching a ball. • Bruises from bumping into things, tripping and frequent falls. • Inability to read aloud smoothly, frequently losing the place in text or using a finger to follow words. • To diagnose vision disorders, the California Optometric Association recommends an eye exam before children go to kindergarten. “Many kids that age might not be able to read letters but the exam is performed in a way where we can collect data without having the child read letters off an eye chart. Eye teaming and eye focusing are evaluated in addition to the health of the eyes,” said Dr. Melamed. “In my opinion and the opinion of most of my colleagues, the simple vision screening tests done at most schools are inappropriate. Those screenings miss many disorders. Specialist eye exams are becoming critical now as high technology enters modern classrooms on a daily basis. I would also urge parents to have their infants evaluated by an eye doctor, because some eye disorders can be diagnosed and corrected very early.” The vast majority of children with eye disorders can overcome these deficits. There are a variety of treatments such as prescription lenses, eye drops, eye patches, eye muscle exercises and in serious cases, surgery. Modern treatments offer hope even to adults who are afflicted with vision disorders that in the past could only be treated in young children. Dr. Melamed advised that studies have proven that early intervention and treatment can reverse vision conditions and put students on the path to success. When is it safe to allow children to use 3D technology? Dr. Melamed stated that since most children have established basic binocular vision by age three, according to the American Optometric Association they can safely enjoy 3D movies, TV shows and games. However, with the closer viewing distance, moderation should be stressed, due to higher visual demand and parents should be alert to signs of visual problems. If you’d like to learn more about 3D Vision and eye health, there’s a great resource at www.3deyehealth.org.