Eye disorders are one of the most common yet overlooked long term health problems experienced by children in Australia. During 2006-07, nearly 9,000 children were hospitalized with eye disease and disorders. As part of its annual JulEYE eye health awareness campaign and in a bid to detect children’s ocular problems earlier, the RANZCO (Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists) Eye Foundation is calling for a national eye screening program to be put in place especially for pre-school children.
Professor Frank Martin, world-renowned paediatric ophthalmologist and RANZCO Eye Foundation Board Member says “children rarely complain about eye problems and often poor eyesight goes undetected. If problems are not picked up during the first few years, damage and vision loss may be permanent.” “The good news is, with early detection, the common vision problems among school-aged children can be easily managed or corrected. This is the driving force behind the RANZCO Eye foundation’s impassioned call for a national eye screening program to ensure no child misses out on this all important check,” says Professor Martin.
Jacinta Spurrett, CEO of The RANZCO Eye Foundation explains, “there are eye screening programs that operate in various states at various times, however, there is a real need for an national eye screening program to ensure all children have the opportunity to have their sight tested before they start school. Such an initiative would make a significant difference to the eye health of younger Australian’s.” “This JulEYE, the RANZCO Eye Foundation is encouraging all parents to add eye tests to their family’s medical health calendar – just as you would go for a check up with your dentist, GP or skin doctor. Eye checks should be undertaken from an early age. If there is a family history of eye conditions such as amblyopia or strabismus, the child needs a full eye examination at an early age. It is important that all children have their vision screened before they start school.
These eye checks will provide peace of mind to parents ensuring that their child has the best possible vision they can have which importantly may affect educational outcomes as students reach each key learning milestone,” says Ms Spurrett. Good eye health begins with regular testing from birth. Parents need to be aware of the importance of children’s eye health and that regular eye checks are just as important to a young child’s overall health and wellbeing as other regular health checks.
When Sydney mum, Fiona McCallum, sent her daughter to preschool for an eye test provided through the preschool screening program, she didn’t imagine how profound the results would be. Mia was diagnosed with amblyopia – a condition also known as ‘lazy eye’. During her eye test, Mia was found to have very limited vision in her right eye – in fact she was legally blind in that eye. She was referred to an ophthalmologist, who prescribed glasses and a patch for Mia’s left eye so that she could begin to strengthen her weaker right eye. Mia is now seven years old. Having worn glasses for the last few years her eyesight is improving. Fiona feels incredibly lucky Mia’s eye condition was detected before it was too late to address the damage.
“As soon as Mia began to wear glasses her whole world changed. Her confidence levels increased and her interaction with the other kids improved dramatically,” says Fiona McCallum. “Mia is lucky her eye condition was detected before it was too late to address the damage. I urge all parents to be proactive and get their children’s eyes tested this JulEYE. By testing your children’s eyes regularly, you may just save their sight,” she adds. Contrary to popular belief, eye disease is not just an affliction of the elderly: it can cause vision loss at any age – in babies, children, teenagers and adults alike. Sydney-based mother Joanne Smith knows the reality of this all too well after her teenage son, Josh, was diagnosed with a rare eye condition called Keratoconus at the young age of eleven. A degenerative disorder of the eye, Josh’s condition causes the cornea to thin and shift into a conical shape, resulting in distorted vision and at risk of vision loss. “It breaks your heart as parents to know that your child has to deal with something like this all on their own without you knowing, but it’s almost impossible to detect unless they are showing obvious physical signs and symptoms, or unless they mention something to you,” explains Joanne. “Therefore, as parents we really have to “see” for our kids. We have to be proactive with their health and medical check-ups and really look out for any changes or inconsistencies in their behavior or abilities. They may not always be able to pick up on signs and symptoms themselves.