Eye exams recommended to protect children’s vision

| August 24, 2013 | 0 Comments
Vision screenings may be very valuable in identifying children with potential eye and vision problems. (Courtesy photo)

Vision screenings may be very valuable in
identifying children with potential eye and vision problems. (Courtesy photo)

Dr. Robert Kang, O.D.
U.S. Army Public Health Command

Eye examinations during the early years of any child’s development are a must.

According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), vision disorders are the most common handicapping conditions in childhood in the United States; yet, fewer than 15 percent of all preschool children receive an eye examination.

It is estimated that up to 5 percent of 3- to 5-year-olds have amblyopia, or “lazy eye,” and about 4 percent have strabismus, or “squint,” where one of the eyes is not aligned with the other eye.

Also, 10-15 percent of children have significant refractive errors that require correction with eyeglasses.

Overall, 15 percent of children have an eye or vision problem that, if not corrected, can result in reduced vision; however, studies also have shown that preschool vision screenings reduce vision disorders among school-age children. For these reasons, many primary care and pediatric clinics, as well as schools, provide vision screenings.

The purpose of a vision screening is to identify children who would benefit from a comprehensive eye examination. But how effective are these screenings in identifying those children? And, as a parent, can you trust the vision screenings, or should you take your preschooler for an eye examination, regardless?

A large clinical study on preschoolers conducted by the NEI found that specially trained nurses and laypeople were as effective in vision screenings as licensed eye-care professionals. Importantly, however, the results depended on the specific tests and equipment used, as well as the specific vision condition being tested.

This study clearly showed the value of vision screening when properly done, but also showed some of its limitations. So, what should a parent do?

The chairperson of the NEI study recommends that parents “question which eye problems are being screened for, the accuracy of the tests” and, more importantly, that “parents should be aware that vision-screening programs do not substitute for a comprehensive eye examination by a licensed eye-care professional.”

The American Optometric Association recommends eye examinations for infants and children at 6 months and 3 years of age, respectively. For school-age children, eye examinations are recommended before first grade, and every two years thereafter.

Of course, infants at higher risk for eye conditions, for example, from family history, should have an examination as soon as medically practicable. Similarly, children with symptoms or higher risks should also be examined more frequently.

Vision screenings may be very valuable in identifying children with potential eye and vision problems. However, until more accurate and effective screening tests and equipment become available, parents should be aware that vision screenings do not replace the need for eye examinations.

The precious gift of a child’s eyesight should be protected and nurtured with comprehensive eye examinations.

(Editor’s note: Kang is an optometrist with USAPHC.)

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