By Dr. Donna O’Shea, chief medical officer of population health, UnitedHealthcare
With the back-to-school season in full swing and COVID-19 restrictions loosening in Colorado and elsewhere, the start of this academic year may feel relatively routine.
That likely includes a return to in-person learning and activities, including the opportunity to schedule recommended health exams that some families may have skipped since the COVID-19 pandemic started. In fact, nearly one in five parents skipped preventive care visits for their children due to COVID-19.
Before schedules become packed with classes, homework and extracurricular activities, review this back-to-school health checklist with actions to take to help give children a better chance to succeed inside and outside the classroom:
Get a Comprehensive Eye Exam.
Proper vision is crucial for success at school, both in the classroom and when playing sports. While school-based vision screenings are valuable, these exams can miss certain conditions. That’s why the American Optometric Association recommends children get their first comprehensive eye exam by age 1 and another prior to starting kindergarten. If no vision issues are detected, then it is recommended children have an exam at least once every two years. Even after receiving a comprehensive eye exam, it is important to monitor for digital eye strain. This condition can be caused by the overuse of digital devices, such as computers or smartphones. Some tips to help avoid digital eye strain include keeping computer screens at least 30 inches away; taking breaks every 20 minutes; and investing in screen protectors or computer monitors that help limit exposure to blue light.
Get a Dental Cleaning.
Proper dental health can help your kids stay confident and smiling, and also benefit their overall well-being. While tooth decay is largely preventable, it unfortunately ranks as the most common chronic disease among children. In fact, by age 5, nearly 50% of children have at least one cavity. To help prevent that, consider scheduling a dental exam at the start of the school year and every six months after that.In addition to routine cleanings, maintaining proper oral health at home is important year-round. That includes brushing your teeth (and tongue) for up to two minutes twice daily; rinsing for 30 seconds with a mouthwash; flossing daily starting at around age 3; and limiting sugary snacks and drinks.
Get a Hearing Test.
Most schools provide hearing screenings, often every other year beginning in kindergarten or first grade. If a hearing issue is identified, a referral for a comprehensive audiologic evaluation is generally the next step. Early intervention is key to help identify the most appropriate treatment as quickly as possible, which is important given hearing losscan affect a child’s ability to develop speech, language and social skills. At home, parents should help children adopt safe listening strategies and avoid excessive exposure to loud sounds, which can contribute to hearing loss over time. Strategies to consider include using ear protection (earplugs or earmuffs) when attending sporting events or music concerts; following the 60-60 rule, which means limiting the use of earbuds or headphones to no more than 60 minutes at a time and at no more than 60% of the player’s maximum volume; and investing in noise-canceling earbuds or headphones.
Dr. Donna O’Shea is the chief medical officer of population health with UnitedHealthcare.