Early detection of young children’s vision problems takes vigilanceWatching a young child struggle to grasp a toy or lose interest in reading after a while seems natural, hardly the manifestation of a vision problem.
By: Thomas Vaughn, Budgeteer News Writer
Watching a young child struggle to grasp a toy or lose interest in reading after a while seems natural, hardly the manifestation of a vision problem.
“You can’t look at a child who needs prescription help and know that child needs prescription help,” said Dr. Teresa Theobald, an eye doctor at Theobald Family Eye Care in Duluth. “Children don’t always know to complain that their eyes aren’t working properly. They just assume that everybody else sees the same way they do.”
When vision disorders are caught early through proper diagnosis, the results are life-altering. Dr. Thomas Shuey, Jr. of Essentia Health remembered when he diagnosed opaque lenses on both eyes in a young child years ago.
“I did cataract surgery on her,” he said. “I’ve kept up with her ever since and she’s become quite an artist as she’s gotten older, and she’s been very appreciative of her good sight.”
According to the Minnesota Optometric Association (MOA), untreated
vision disorders are the number one disabling condition among children. The Vision Council of America also states that one in four children has a vision problem that can interfere with learning and behavior.
August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month. Local eye doctors talked about the need for proactive eye care for young children.
Dr. Kevin Treacy is in practice with Austin & Treacy. He has also made 18 service trips to the Caribbean country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, bringing eye care to children there.
“Children have such potential,” he said. “You want them to enjoy good vision so they can enjoy the world. We’re always excited to see them make good progress.”
One vision problem, amblyopia, known as lazy-eye, affects two to four people out of 100, and is a leading cause of vision loss, according to the MOA. Treacy said that children’s vision problems, such as the onset of lazy-eye, are often hidden from the adults who care for them.
“A child’s eyes can suppress things like blurred
or double vision,” he said. “If a child’s eyes are misaligned or one is more blurred than the other, the child’s brain can shut that off. An adult may be bothered by double vision; the child’s brain can ignore it. If that goes on for a while, a child can develop lazy-eye.”
The MOA states that the ability to learn may be reduced if a child has a vision problem because 80 percent of learning is visual. In a classroom learning situation, a vision disorder may be misdiagnosed as ADHD or other behavioral disorder. For example, if a child cannot see what should be copied from a blackboard or digital whiteboard, he might ignore it. Teachers, parents or nurses might view the problem as behavioral rather than visual. The MOA encourages comprehensive eye examinations in such situations.
To help a few young students this month, Theobald, current president of the MOA, offered 24 no-cost eye examinations to local pre-kindergarten children as part of Pre-K Eye Exam Day, sponsored by the MOA.
“3D is a growing facet of the classroom now,” she said, referring to teaching technology innovations. “We want to make sure kids can actually see well when they get to the classroom.”
Shuey said that family history is also an important factor when scheduling eye care for young children. If relatives had any eye conditions when they were young children, screening at ages 1, 3, and 5 is recommended.
To learn more about eye health, visit http://minnesota.aoa.org or www. preventblindness.org.