We know he'll probably need them eventually, since Mr. Lucinda and I have 20/10000000000000 vision
January 19, 2007 1:48 PM   Subscribe

Will my son need glasses?

My son's vision got tested yesterday at school (kindergarten) and it was listed as 20/50 in his right eye and 20/40 in his left. They recommended that his eyes be examined by an eye care specialist.

This was total news to me (he's never seemed to have a problem seeing things at a distance), so I did a little test while we were at lunch. He was able to read a sign with inch high letters from about thirty feet away, but he couldn't read a sign with quarter-inch high letters at maybe 10-15 feet or so. I could barely read the sign, and my vision (with contacts) is 20/20.

I've made an appointment for him that's in about a week, but I'm wondering if anyone could figure out from the results of my very unprofessional testing how bad his vision is, and if we need to worry about him needing glasses yet.
posted by Lucinda to Health & Fitness (15 answers total)
Public school eye tests are pretty short and somewhat inaccurate. I remember mine lasting about five minutes (in sixth grade). If you are really worried, then have an eye test done at a reputable optometrist, but don't trust the school's eye guy to give you the most straight and narrow on your son's vision.
posted by parmanparman at 2:05 PM on January 19, 2007

Only way to answer this: See an optometrist. Was this worth asking?
posted by SpecialK at 2:07 PM on January 19, 2007

Response by poster: Let me rephrase:

Would a person with 20/50 vision be able to read a 1" letter from 30 feet away?
posted by Lucinda at 2:22 PM on January 19, 2007

I'm not sure you can get from where you are to a specific value value. As I understand it, the fonts and symbols used in eye charts are specifically designed so that the gaps and strokes are appropriately sized next to each other. It's a lot easier to read some fonts from a distance than others, so the actual values would depend very much on what the sign you were showing him looked like.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:31 PM on January 19, 2007

It's hard to compare. It's easier to read words than letters, because only certain combinations of letters are common. On an eye test, you might not be able to tell a O from a Q. But you can tell them apart if you see Ocean vs. Quart, since Qcean and Ouart make no sense.
posted by smackfu at 2:42 PM on January 19, 2007

jacquilynne is right: the ability to read letters from a distance is going to vary according to the font. If you want to do a quick-and-dirty test with your son, why not just print out an eye chart from online? The ones I've linked to are calibrated for a twenty-foot viewing distance, I believe.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:48 PM on January 19, 2007

Would a person with 20/50 vision be able to read a 1" letter from 30 feet away?

IANAO, but I believe this is equivalent to asking if a person with 20/20 vision would be able to read a 1" letter from 75 feet away?
posted by 0xFCAF at 2:49 PM on January 19, 2007

Would a person with 20/50 vision be able to read a 1" letter from 30 feet away?

In 20/50, the first "20" stands for "20 feet." It means that what the patient can only see from 20 feet that which a normal eye could see from 50 feet. That's how the Snellen test works.

So having 20/50 vision doesn't say anything at all about what you can see from 30 feet away. However, if you want to do some simple trig, you need to be able to resolve 1 minute of arc to have 20/20 vision.

That said, at home is not the right place to make a diagnosis, unless you have a properly-lit room with a Snellen eye chart. School wasn't the right place to make a diagnosis either, as they know quite well there.

Your son has been screened; the intention of this test was not to make a definitive diagnosis. It was instead to catch every child who could possibly have a vision defect, and refer those kids for further testing. There are plenty of reasons to have low vision besides refractive error; don't count your chickens before they're hatched. Heck, I recall once the woman screening me at school snapped the elastic from the eyepatch right onto my open eye; I couldn't read with that eye for hours, but there was nothing fundamentally wrong with that eye. On the other hand, neurologists occasionally see children and adults with a non-refractive vision problem that is the first herald of something truly disastrous, like MS or leukodystrophy or some other horror. Let a specialist sort this out.

If it turns out your son needs glasses, maybe take some time, show him some pictures of famous people who wear glasses, let him choose a style of frames he likes. I was initially shown these awful horn-rimmed glasses and burst out crying; that night I saw John Denver on TV, and I thought to myself, "He seems like a nice person. Maybe I could have glasses like that instead." So I asked for those glasses and I was much happier with them.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:23 PM on January 19, 2007 [4 favorites]

Anecdotal evidence against school eye tests: When I took one as a child, they gave me multiple chances to guess the letter. Well, a round shaped blur can only be C, O, or Q; given enough guesses, I passed the test and was told I didn't need glasses. A few years later when I finally got glasses I was amazed at the details I'd been missing for years; bricks in buildings, leaves on trees.
posted by Juliet Banana at 3:52 PM on January 19, 2007

IF he does have a slight bit of nearsightedness now it will increase over the next few years.

I too was a "good guesser" in first grade and by third grade when they finally caught it I could barely read the blackboard from the front row. And I too was amazed at the detail's I'd been missing. I was delighted; my dad told me later he felt guilty as heck.

Anyway be glad they are catching it now, if in fact he does wind up needing glasses.
posted by konolia at 4:23 PM on January 19, 2007

There's no harm, really, in following up with a specialist. In my case the screening exam did not catch that I had a lazy eye (how did they miss that?) and my lazy eye was not diagnosed until I was 17 and it was too late to correct. (Result: my eyes look normal but I basically can only use one of them.) If you get him in to see a good specialist they should be able to catch all things like that that may not be obvious.
posted by litlnemo at 5:36 PM on January 19, 2007

"catch all kinds of things like that" is what I meant to type.
posted by litlnemo at 5:37 PM on January 19, 2007

My boy's in kindergarten too and I took him for his first official eye exam this year, to try to head off the stories that have been told above about people (including our older daughter) needing glasses years before they actually got them. Definitely best left to the pros.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:32 PM on January 19, 2007

I don't know the answer to your question, but I got glasses in kindergarten and I'm sort of glad. Not only could I totally see, but I was ready for contacts by fifth grade and can now freak out my friends by taking my contacts in and out without a mirror. I think the contacts thing actually has more to do with eye size, come to think of it, but what I meant to say was that I sort of feel sorry for people I know who are just getting glasses now (in high school). Like lots of inevitable and somewhat unpleasant things, it's much easier to get it over with when you're little. See: Tonsils, removal of; chicken pox. Anyway. Just make sure you get a friendly optometrist who is willing to deal with kids; I loved the optometrist I had when I was younger because he was always willing to tell me what his instruments did and he showed me how to make an impromptu vision aid by poking a hole in a leaf. So I wouldn't walk over a cliff if my glasses broke while camping, I guess. Sorry for the rambling answer, but I just wanted to tell you that getting glasses young isn't the end of the world.
posted by MadamM at 10:44 PM on January 19, 2007

Response by poster: For what it's worth, we took him to the eye doctor on Monday and the optometrist said that his eyes were 20/20.
posted by Lucinda at 5:05 PM on January 31, 2007

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