As kids get ready to head back to school this week, a local optometrist is stressing the importance of eye exams for children and he says the earlier the better.
Fewer than 14 per cent of Canadians under the age of six have had a comprehensive eye exam, according to Dr. Scott Lopetinsky, and one in four kids has a vision problem.
With most eye problems, Lopetinsky said parents aren’t able to see any symptoms in their kids, which can lead to bigger problems when they start school because 80 per cent of a child’s learning is obtained through vision.
“Farsightedness is really difficult – it’s actually almost impossible – for parents, and in some cases teachers, to actually find the symptoms of. Farsightedness actually causes the kids to actually focus harder so what that means is their concentration is going to be decreased,” Lopetinsky said.
“They won’t be able to sit and read for long periods of time. There will be a lack of focus. There will be difficulty with comprehension – learning how to read and write.”
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Sarah Stewart brought her son Max in for an eye exam last year before he started elementary school. She said she didn’t have any concerns with Max’s vision, but thought it would be a good thing for the six-year-old to have done before he started school.
“We came in thinking it was just going to be a regular eye exam and left knowing he was going to have to be wearing a patch and wearing glasses. It was a real shock.”
Max had difficulty with the exam and was diagnosed with anisometropia, a condition in which the eyes have different refractive power. In Max’s case, one eye was extremely farsighted and the other was not.
“The eye that’s farsighted, the brain starts to ignore what it sees and that can lead to something called amblyopia – or some people will label it as lazy eye,” Lopetinsky explained.
“If it’s not caught early enough then that eye never develops properly… he would have actually grown up with one eye that didn’t see properly.”
Lopetinsky said Max showed no symptoms.
“He had never complained of any vision problems whatsoever so I had no indication that one was weaker,” Stewart added.
Because of Max’s age, his vision has been corrected over the past year. With the use of a patch over the strong eye, he was able to strengthen his weak eye back to nearly 20/20 vision.
“It was really lucky,” Lopetinsky said.
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The optometrist said most eye conditions can be treated if they’re caught early enough. And while many kids will be screened at school, he said the test doesn’t go far enough.
“Vision screening or sight testing actually misses over 40 per cent of eye problems that can arise,” he explained.
“It’s just a screening. It basically just tests the very basics of vision. There is so much more to vision than just what you see with both eyes open,” he continued. “We also look into the health of the eyes and how the eyes work together, not just the vision.”
Lopetinsky recommends parents have their children’s eyes tested at six months, two years and again before they start school.
Alberta Health covers the cost of eye exams until a person is 19 years old.