Haims: Health considerations for the school year
The scrambling to buy new clothing and school supplies has begun. The shelves of brick-and-mortar retailers are stocked and online retailers are already touting their cost advantages and ease of ordering on TV and social media.
When any school year begins, there is often excitement about seeing friends again, meeting new teachers and sharing summer break stories. However, each new school year brings colds, coughs, the flu and other illnesses.
As well, the new school year also brings with it opportunities to address concerns of vision and hearing, which too often impede our children’s ability to successfully learn.
While I have not heard too much yet, COVID-19 and the delta variant will be a concern for our children in general, but in particularly those children under the age of 12 who have not yet been able to be vaccinated. Like it or not, we must have a continued emphasis on keeping students safe and protected from exposure to COVID-19.
Based on available evidence, local and national education leadership along with public health are working to create policies for the safe opening of schools given COVID-19 concerns. While we hope their efforts are productive, each of us must be proactive in managing the well-being of our loved ones.
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Unfortunately, schools and classrooms often become a breeding ground for organisms that cause the common cold, the flu, sore throat, the heinous pink eye, ear infections and strep throat. Yep, it’s a cacophony of bacteria and viruses. Perhaps one of the easiest protective measures is washing hands frequently and avoiding touching your face.
Outside of health concerns, a new school year brings opportunity to identify hearing and vision impairments. Unaddressed, these impairments may not only lend to lower scores on achievement and verbal tests, but also impede their pathways to success.
The implications of vision and hearing impairments have direct academic and social effects. Academic effects include delays in development, reading, spelling, math and problem-solving.
Social effects of hearing and vision impairments may lend to difficulty and comfort levels of participating in group activities, delayed social maturity and confusion. Sometimes, children may become isolated and show signs of helplessness and isolation.
For those parents that are not in the know, I bet most had no idea that “about one in four school-aged children suffer from an undetected or untreated vision problem.” This alarming tidbit of information comes from the American Optometric Association and is supported by a broad and comprehensive group of educators and health care providers that include the American Academy of Optometry, National Head Start Association, American Public Health Association, and the National Association of School Nurses.
Eighty percent of all learning during a child’s first 12 years of life is obtained through vision and approximately 60% of students identified as “problem learners” have undetected vision problems. Paying attention to eye health may be worth your time and attention.
Complaints of eyestrain, headaches, squinting when reading, swollen or red eyes, and persistent floaters are symptoms that could indicate an eye or vision problem.
While many schools provide eye exams in kindergarten, first, third and fifth grades, parents should be alert to vision complaints and signs of concern. A school vision screening or a pediatrician’s test may not be a substitute for a comprehensive eye examination from an eye doctor.
When vision isn’t working properly, learning and activities suffer as a result.
Hearing loss affects health and quality of life. Many children suffer hearing loss due to infections, disease or congenital (before birth) hearing issues.
There are four different types of hearing loss:
- Conductive: Hearing loss resulting from disorders of the outer and/or middle ear (such as ear infections or abnormal ear structures).
- Sensorineural: Hearing loss resulting from disorders of the inner ear or the eighth cranial nerve that carries the auditory signals to the brain (such as resulting from meningitis, noise exposure or problems at birth).
- Mixed: A combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
- Central: Results from disorders of the central auditory nervous system (such as auditory processing disorders). This type of hearing loss may not be identified through school hearing screening programs. Diagnosis of this type of hearing problem is made by an audiologist using very specialized tests.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, significantly better language development is associated with early identification of hearing loss and early intervention.
Be proactive and pay attention to some of these concerns. Just as important as our children’s health is addressing and identifying concerns for potential vision and hearing issues.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He can be contacted at VisitingAngels.com/comtns or by calling 970-328-5526.