Don’t Wait Till It’s Too Late: Your Child Needs These Health Checks In 2020

Have you heard about “Lockdown Eyesight,” “Quarantine 15” (referring to weight gain), and other health concerns resulting from our stay-home routines during Covid-19?

Those not grappling with livelihood issues have tried to make the best of the current situation, by replacing outdoor activities with indoor indulgences such as Netflix-bingeing and increased snacking. While we may be safe from the pandemic at home, the new habits we’ve adopted can affect our health in negative ways.

With much to manage during this period, some parents may also have missed a notification letter from the local Health Promotion Board (HPB) about the national school health screening programme.

Here’s what you need to know: if your child has not had a school-based health screening this year, there will not be one until 2021. You can check the HPB’s screening schedule for primary and secondary students to see the tests your child might have missed.

In the meantime, the HPB has advised that you can help to monitor your child in these three areas:

Vision Problems

This may be the most common health concern during this time, because of our increased dependence on digital devices during Covid-19. From home-based learning and video conferencing, along with mobile phone use to keep in touch with loved ones, gaming, and streaming content for one’s viewing pleasure, our eyes are just straining to keep up.

In Britain, a poll by the College of Optometrists found that one in five respondents noticed vision deterioration as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown. Over in Singapore, the HPB has advised parents to pay attention if children complain of blurred vision when looking at distant objects, or a headache resulting from eye strain.

Other symptoms of vision issues include:

  • Squinting or tilting the head to look at distant objects
  • Consistently sitting too close to a television or computer screen, or holding a book too close to one’s eyes when reading
  • Excessive blinking
  • Rubbing one’s eyes frequently

These may be signs that your child is suffering from myopia or nearsightedness — a vision condition where one can see close objects clearly, but objects farther away appear blurred.

Even without stay-home advisories, Singapore already has one of the highest myopia rates in the world, where 65 percent of our children are myopic by Primary 6. By 2050, it is projected that 80 to 90 percent of all Singaporean adults above 18 years old will be myopic, and 15 to 25 percent of these individuals may have high myopia.

Read the HPB’s myopia guide for more information, and schedule an appointment with an optometrist or eye specialist if you are concerned about your child’s eye health.

Hearing Impairment

This is a check that is normally performed under the HPB health screening process, but if your child has missed the test this year, do take note if he or she:

  • continually asks others to repeat what was said
  • misunderstands and often gives inappropriate responses to questions
  • likes to turn up the television volume
  • watches your face for visual cues
  • has speech delay or deteriorating speech

More information is available on the HPB’s hearing loss guide.

Scoliosis (Curved Spine)

Scoliosis is a condition where the normally straight spine curves to form an “S” or “C” shape. This is not poor posture; instead, it is an issue with the structure of the spine. 

Spine examinations are typically performed in school, but for this year, if your child has missed the check, you will have to examine your child’s bare back (note that your child should not be wearing footwear) to look out for signs of spinal abnormality, such as:

  • The body does not look symmetrical
  • A curved spine, with the body leaning to one side
  • One shoulder appears to be higher than the other
  • One shoulder blade is more visible than the other
  • One hip is higher than the other
  • More space between the arm and the body on one side

HPB’s scoliosis pamphlet has more information, including a contact number to seek help if you should notice anything amiss.

Photo by Superkitina on Unsplash

Apart from the above, here are three more health areas that parents should keep tabs on:

Dental Health

Has your child missed a dental appointment due to Covid-19 shutdowns? You may want to use the upcoming September holidays to schedule a session.

Missing a dental check-up is enough to increase one’s risk of cavities. With more time spent at home, certain habits such as snacking on sweet foods or not brushing before afternoon naps may also put one’s teeth in poorer health. What’s more, a handful of dentists have suggested that prolonged mask-wearing can lead to decreased water intake and mouth breathing, which causes dry mouth, or a decrease in saliva production. Ordinarily, drinking plenty of water or keeping the mouth moist with saliva would also help to keep cavities at bay.

If you’ve been putting off dental appointments for the family, it’s time to fit this into your schedule, so that emerging problems can be detected and treated early.

The “Coronavirus Diet”

Covid-19 has had different impacts on our food routines. On one hand, some families may have been compelled to prepare more meals at home, instead of relying on take-out or food deliveries. At the same time, we may also have indulged in the less healthy “Covid comfort eating” — think regular bubble teas — which is a normal reaction to stress, boredom, and being stuck at home without social interactions.

If you haven’t been keeping track of your family’s food consumption habits during this time, do take a week to observe everyone’s eating patterns, to see if there are changes you might need to make.

Junk food indulgences may have to be reduced, for the sake of health as well as the family’s budget. For those short on time to prepare a meal from scratch, canned foods such as chickpeas and sardines are nutritious and can be incorporated into meals without compromising on quality. (Get more easy, affordable, and healthy eating tips on the Unicef website.)

Emotional Stress & Depression

If adults feel like the world is falling apart, just imagine what kids and teens are thinking?

Right now, children could be dealing with an unusual amount of stress. They may have fears about Covid-19 and the family’s health or finances, they might have fallen behind in school, they could be missing their friends, or they could have been bullied online. Or, for reasons unknown, they may simply not be able to shake the sinking feeling of being out of control — perhaps they’re reacting to the negative news in the media, or the moods of those around them.

Read our article to find out more about depression in children and what you can look out for. If you sense that your child is unable to manage stress, and may be depressed, do seek help quickly. Depression is a health issue and it is treatable, but it is best done with professional support.