Preventing kid’s vision loss

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St. Joseph’s Health Care London’s new eye screening research program for children is identifying issues resulting in referrals to ongoing care.

It’s an eye-opening fact: As many as 10 per cent of pre-schoolers don’t see clearly. A scary statistic considering vision plays a critical role in how a child learns.

But a new vision screening research program of St. Joseph’s Ivey Eye Institute is spotting problems early.

Amblyopia, known generally as “lazy eye,” is the leading cause of decreased vision among children. Resulting from abnormal visual development in infancy and early childhood, it’s fairly easy to treat early in life but becomes difficult to treat after the age of six when vision may never recover to its full potential.

“Early detection is key with amblyopia,” says Dr. Inas Makar, pediatric ophthalmologist at Ivey Eye Institute. “The decrease in vision results when one or both eyes send a blurry image to the brain. The brain then learns to only see blurry with that eye, even when glasses are used later in life. Without early detection and treatment, amblyopia may result in permanent vision impairment.”

The main risk factors for amblyopia include long or short sightedness, astigmatism, eye turns and drooping eyelids.

“The preschool years are imperative,” says research coordinator Afua Oteng-Amoako. “According to research, 80 per cent of what children learn in the first 12 years is through what they see. So if vision problems could be detected and treated before children start school, we can help to ensure optimal vision and subsequently fewer learning difficulties.”

The goal of the research study is to assess the effectiveness of photoscreening as a vision screening tool for children aged 18 months to four years in London, Ontario and surrounding communities. Because most of this age group is pre-verbal and difficult to examine by traditional methods, the study aims to identify the risk factors of amblyopia in children and evaluate the reliability of the PlusOptix S12 photoscreener as a screening tool. The camera creates an environment where even pre-verbal children can be screened easily. The screening process takes a few seconds and is as easy as taking a picture. Using special automated digital cameras, children have a “photo” taken. The camera automatically detects issues or concerns requiring further testing by an professional. The innovative research program is called Ivey Special Eye Exam (iSee) Vision Screening.

“iSee will provide an immediate referral report if a risk factor for amblyopia is detected,” says Dr. Makar. “Guardians receive the report and instructions to guide them on next steps.”

In the past seven months, 793 children have been screened and of those, 43 have been identified as having possible lazy eye. “The identified children were referred to community optometrists for further examinations, and two have been further referred by optometrists to the Ivey Eye Institute,” says Oteng-Amoako. “Within two weeks of screening, most parents who received referral reports had followed up with an optometrist. We are thrilled to see the research program helping children.

iSee not only tests screening modality, but also educates and creates awareness on the importance of detecting and testing young children for vision problems.

While an excellent tool, the screening doesn’t eliminate the need for regular eye exams with an optometrist for young children, cautions Oteng-Amoako. The Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) covers individuals under the age of 20 for eye exams by an optometrist or physician once every 12 months, plus any follow-up assessments that may be required.

iSee is a research program of St. Joseph’s Ivey Eye Institute made possible by donations to St. Joseph’s Heath Care Foundation along with philanthropic and volunteer support from the London Central Lions Club for this important community research program.

 For more information on the research program, what warning signs to look for, screening locations and times visit iseevision.ca.

 

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