3 checkups to help set your child up for school success

Does back to school mean “back to busy” for you and your family?

Before schedules become packed with homework, sports and other extracurricular activities, consider scheduling your child’s recommended health exams. It may help them succeed inside and outside the classroom.

“Setting a few health-related appointments this fall could help to make this a successful school year for your child, including by flagging issues that can make learning more difficult,” said Dr. Donna O’Shea, chief medical officer of population health at UnitedHealthcare. “This is especially important if the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted your family’s preventive care routines, including annual checkups for the kids.”

Here are three exams to consider:

  • Vision check – While pediatrician and school-based vision screenings are valuable, they can miss certain conditions, such as poor eye alignment, focus issues and farsightedness. That’s why it's recommended children get a comprehensive eye exam before starting kindergarten and, if no vision issues are detected, at least once every two years after that.

Even after an exam, it is important to watch for digital eye strain, which can be caused by the overuse of blue-light-emitting digital devices, such as smartphones or laptops. Digital eye strain can contribute to headaches, dry eyes, and neck or shoulder pain. To help reduce the risk of it, some health plans offer discounts on screen protectors or computers with blue-light filtering properties.

For help with digital eye strain or other vision issues, it’s important to work with an eye care professional. You can also tap into online resources such as uhccontacts.com or uhcglasses.com, which may help you save time and money on your eyewear.

  • Dental cleaning – Tooth decay is largely preventable, but it still ranks among the most common chronic conditions in children. By school age, about half of all kids have at least one cavity, which may cause pain and even affect concentration in class or while doing school work. To make sure your child’s teeth are as healthy as possible, consider scheduling a dental exam at the start of the school year and every six months after that.

Besides routine cleanings, proper at-home oral care is important year-round. Tips include brushing your teeth and tongue with a soft-bristled toothbrush for up to two minutes twice a day, flossing daily and avoiding sugary snacks and drinks. 

  • Hearing test – Hearing loss can affect a child’s ability to develop speech, language and social skills. While most schools offer annual or bi-annual screenings, it’s important to get a comprehensive hearing evaluation if you think your child may have a problem.

Today, nearly half of 12- to 35-year-olds are at risk of hearing loss due to prolonged and excessive exposure to loud sounds, including music cranked through earbuds and headphones. To help lower the risks, consider the 60–60 rule, which means limiting the use of earbuds or headphones to no more than 60 minutes and at no more than 60% of the player’s maximum volume.

If you missed some recent exams, you’re not alone. Some parents skipped preventive care visits for their children because of COVID-19 issues.

“Make this back-to-school season a time to get your family back on schedule with these health exams and appointments,” Dr. O’Shea said. “Besides being good for their health, the checkups are a valuable lesson for children about the importance of preventive care.”

One more thing: If you're heading to a checkup with your child’s primary care doctor for the first time in a while, it might be helpful to bring along a preventive care checklist to make sure you’re remembering all the recommendations for vaccines, screenings and more.