Looking after young eyes

Research shows nearly 20 per cent of children have vision problems, many of which go undetected. If untreated, these can affect children’s social skills and academic performance, so good eyecare is essential from the start, as Yvonne Gordon discovers

Optometrists are joining a UK-wide campaign to raise awareness of the importance of children’s eye-health.

Led by the Association of Optometrists (AOP), it aims to encourage parents to include sight tests in their children’s back-at-school routine. Up to a million UK schoolchildren have an undiagnosed vision problem, which sometimes impacts negatively on their behaviour and ability to absorb information.

Campaign leader, optometrist Polly Dulley, says: “The sooner eye problems are detected, the better the likely outcome. Many childhood eye conditions, such as lazy eye – amblyopia – and squint – strabismus – can be treated if detected early.”

Most parents assume children undergo school vision-screening, but many areas don’t provide it. Additionally, some eye conditions may cause significant problems with learning ability, but cannot be picked up in screening, which is designed to detect lazy eye, but not assess total eye health.

NHS optometrists give free sight tests for under-16s.

Boots Opticians optometrist Carolyn Norman says: “Parents should get children’s eyes tested around the age of four or five and regularly throughout childhood. Children’s visual dysfunction is sometimes associated with learning difficulties, which may be helped by tinted spectacles or coloured overlays to cut out glare.”

RNIB (Royal National Institute of the Blind) eye health adviser Sonal Rughani adds: “The early detection of any visual or eye health-related condition is essential to ensure effective treatment. Many children have undetected problems, with clear vision, such as hyperopia – long-sightedness – and myopia – short-sightedness – which are easily correctable with spectacles.”