Vision is the primary way that we experience the world around us. It is central to how we learn, how we play, and even how we communicate. As an eye doctor, one of the reasons I specialized in pediatric eye care is because of the life-long impact that I can make by ensuring that a child has good, functional vision.
There are several themes in the quest to make sure that kids have good vision. One is screening them to help identify kids who have problems with their vision. Also important is promoting eye health and safety. And then, particularly for me, another focus is conducting pediatric eye research to make sure that we know as much as we can about how vision develops, how we can help to make sure that development happens in the best possible way, and how we can help when things go wrong.
Vision screenings are one of the many tools that are used to make sure that kids are healthy and developing normally. Young children with vision problems often do not know that the way they see the world is not the way everyone sees it. Yet vision problems affect one in 20 preschoolers. They also affect one in four school-aged children. Without early detection and treatment, children’s vision problems can lead to permanent vision loss or learning difficulties.
Only an eye doctor can diagnose and treat a vision problem, but screenings help find children who need a full eye exam. Your pediatrician will screen your child by his or her 4th year well-child visit. And then, your child will be screened either by his or her pediatrician or by the school; it is important to make sure that children get screened into their high-school years. For the specific guidelines from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, please click here, or, if you would like to access more resources about vision screening, you can go to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health site and search for “vision screening”.
The world can be a dangerous place for young eyes. Accidents involving common household products cause 125,000 eye injuries each year. Every 13 minutes, an emergency room treats a sports-related eye injury. And, 43 percent of sports-related eye injuries happen to children ages 14 and younger. The good news is that ninety percent of these eye injures can be prevented through understanding of best safety practices and the use of proper eye protection. For example, the National Eye Institute (part of the National Institute of Health) recently provided guidelines stating that children should wear eye protection for all sports activities.
At this time of year, even past July 4th, a common cause of injuries is fireworks. Fireworks lead to thousands of injuries in children, requiring trips to the emergency room each year. The eyes are one of the most commonly injured parts of the body. About a third or more of injuries from fireworks occur in children under 15. There is no safe way for nonprofessionals to use fireworks. If fireworks cause an injury to the eyes, it is very important not to rub or try to flush the eyes, as this can make the injury much worse. Holding or taping a foam cup over the eyes can prevent the child from touching or further injuring the eyes, and then the child should be taken immediately to the emergency room.
For more helpful tips about eye safety you can visit Prevent Blindess America.
At Harvard Vanguard, we are participating in a number of clinical trials related to vision in children. Currently, we are part of the Pediatric Eye Disease Investigator Group (PEDIG)and are enrolling children with certain eye disorders in clinical trials to determine the best way to treat these disorders. The disorders we are studying are amblyopia (sometimes called “lazy eye”) and a type of strabismus (a mis-alignment of an eye or an eye turn) called “intermittent exotropia.” These disorders are often first discovered by vision screenings. Amblyopia and strabismus can usually be treated more fully when they are discovered early. The results of these studies will hopefully help us to be even better at treating these conditions in the future. For more information about amblyopia and strabismus research, including these clinical trials, you can visit the PEDIG website.