I recently shared the unexpected perks of one of my 4-year-old identical twins wearing glasses, but how did I even know she needed glasses to begin with? She’s so young! It all started with her annual check-up, also known as a well child visit.
What’s a well visit?
It’s taking your kid to the doctor once a year (usually around their birthday) to make sure they are growing and developing approrpriately. Plenty of parents associate these visits with getting shots, and oftentimes vaccinations are involved. Even if shots are not required, a visit to the doctor still is needed every year after age 3 (more often for kids 3 and younger).
I am thankful for our well visit because this is how we knew our 4-year-old needed glasses.
Here’s what happened:
Three-year old well visit:
It’s the first time our kids are getting their eyes screened with a special flashing light hand-held machine. One of the twins’ eye screen is not 100% normal. We told the nurse practitioner she seems clumsy and tends to run into things a lot. The nurse practitioner said her eye exam alone doesn’t warrant seeing a specialist, but saying she bumps into stuff a lot prompted her to suggest an appointment with an eye specialist, the ophthalmologist.
First ophthalmologist appointment:
The doctor checks her sight and does some more thorough testing (which I am impressed with because what can a 3-year old tell you verbally?). He says she has an astigmatism, but it’s slight and just something to keep an eye on (ha – pun intended). He wants to see us in a year. I leave the office impressed with all the different ways they can screen a toddler’s vision – something I would never be able to do on my own.
Four-year old well visit:
Her eyes are scanned again with the same abnormal result as the year before. I am not wavered.
Second opthalmologist appointment a year later:
She’s going through the same set of tests and not passing. The doctor wants to dilate her eyes with drops and shares he thinks it’s time for glasses.
I felt like I was punched in the stomach. It was the same feeling I had when we learned the girls were developmentally delayed.
Adding insult to injury, I then had to pry her eyes open to help the nurse get the drops in. My sweet little girl was uncontrollably screaming and crying so hard I would have bought her a pony or a trip to Disney World to help her feel better.
After a few more tests with eyes dilated, it was confirmed – girlfriend needs glasses. It’s been a true blessing. She can see now! Also, she may not need glasses forever.
Here’s why – the eye remains malleable until age 6, so my 4-year-old’s astigmatism may correct itself with the aid of her glasses for the next two years. We have time in our favor because we caught this issue early and addressed it right away. By age 6, she may not have “the football in her eye.”
Sadly, there are 6-year-olds who show up to the ophthalmologist’s office completely blind in one eye and it’s too late to do anything to get the sight back. The window to help has closed indefinitely and it’s heartbreaking.
Most importantly, ensuring my daughter can see now will help her growth and development, not to mention her ability to see and learn in school (yes, sight is important to learning – go figure).
It may seem like a waste of time for the kids and parents to see the doctor when they seem perfectly healthy, but parents are not doctors and we just don’t know what to look for.
There’s no way I could have screened my daughter’s eyes at age 3 on my own. Furthermore, parents are not trained to look for the stuff which seems minor now (being clumsy), but could be the source of major health problems in the future (blind in an eye). A well visit is the best way to detect something is awry before something is truly wrong.
So what gets covered in a typical well visit?
Doctors do the following:
- Monitor growth and development, thus answering the nagging question of, “Is my kid too big or too small for their age?”
- Discuss diet, nutrition, exercise and elevated BMI
- This is the time to talk about healthy weight because being overweight or obese is a trend set early in life. The earlier healthy weight is addressed, the better the outcomes.
- Screen and address serious and persistant (aka acute and chronic) illnesses like asthma
- Conduct a phsyical exam and provide clearance for sports at the same time
- Update immunizations and provide the flu vaccine yearly
- Talk about issues at school
- Provide parents helpful information on healthy living like using helmets, sunscreen, reading, safety, sleep and feeding habits
What doctors screen for which parents cannot:
- Appropriate development
- Anemia (low iron)
- Lead exposure/poisoning
- Vision (the screening I am personally thankful for right now!)
- Sexually Transmitted Infections
- High-risk Behaviors like drug use
- Social determinants of health like safe housing and food insecurity
Moreover, an annual well visit/check-up will ensure your school forms, sports forms, and camp forms are up to date and signed when you need them (save yourself the last minute rush).
Doctors are able to talk about often uncomfortable subjects like behavior issues, promoting a healthy diet, issues with school performance, safety and adolescence with school-aged children.
As kids get older, doctors are a trusted source for teens to discuss high-risk behaviors like sexual activity, drinking and drugs. Building the relationship now with a physician will only prove more beneficial over time as kids grow up. Who couldn’t use another trusted adult in their life as a teenager?
Attending an annual well visit is the best way to ensure a healthy future for our kids. Be sure to schedule a well visit every year.