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Irish Childrens' Campaign begins

Irish Campaign for better understanding of Children’s’ Needs begins

September 2010

Bright Eyes For Back to School

Optometrists in Ireland are encouraging parents and teachers across the country to take their children for a special eye screening test as part of its Bright Eyes For Back to School campaign which runs next week (from September 6th to 11th).

The campaign by the Association of Optometrists (AOI) includes a special eye screening test that its members are offering for young children to help detect any sight problems early, which enables the best treatment options. Proper levels of eye care can help prevent vision problems which can affect a child throughout their life. (The Irish system does not provide for free eye testing by optometrists for children unlike the UK)

AOI Optometric Advisor, Lynda McGivney Nolan, said that children with undetected vision problems can lead to learning difficulties. Over 80% of what a child learns is based on vision and vision plays a vital role in playing and interacting with their peers. If a child has vision problems which are not detected and therefore untreated, that child will not be able to achieve his or her full potential. This can in turn lead to behavioral difficulties.

"Ideally all children should have their vision assessed by the age of three and then again at five, but many children in Ireland are not being seen until much later, if at all through the National School Screening system.

Not only does this screening happen too late, it is also inadequate and can miss certain vision problems and give a high false positive rate. This results in children being referred to the community ophthalmologist for further testing, but it can take up to two years depending on where you live to get an appointment. This delay can have huge consequences for a child's visual development. “

The AOI point out that a child is only entitled to two screenings during the whole time they are in school and a child's eyesight can change very quickly and within a 6 month period, may go from having normal vision to developing a vision problem. This means that children of school going age should have access to regular vision assessments designed to detect such changes early on when they happen.

"The Association of Optometrists has developed a simple 6 point vision assessment which can be done at any local Independent Opticians Practice. It is more detailed and thorough than the screening on offer through schools and is specifically designed to identify the problems that can often be missed in young children's eyesight," she said.

Studies show that early access to properly designed screening systems for children is essential in providing proper levels of eyecare. If children are not seen until they are six or seven, the visual system has developed and the reversal of vision loss is far more difficult if not impossible in some cases.

The AOI said children's eye examinations with an optometrist are not covered by the HSE and that parents must pay privately, or else risk having their child on long waiting lists to be seen at HSE clinics. The problem with these long waiting lists is that at one end, the child may be seen too late to reverse vision problems which are fully treatable, or at the very least the child has to continue struggling to cope with vision problems while trying to develop normally and keep up with his or her peers. However, the AOI believes that all school going children are entitled to a HSE covered eye examination through an optometrist as recommended by the Competition Authority report on Optometry in Ireland, in 2006.

"This would shorten waiting lists, provide more immediate access to eye care and would be far more cost effective, as the cost of an eye examination with an optometrist is significantly less than with a community ophthalmologist," she said.

The AOI pointed out that this way, the Community Ophthalmologists can concentrate on seeing those children who need rapid access to their expertise.

Independent Optometrists participating in this campaign will have the Bright Eyes For Back to School posters on display, and as well as offering this screening will have information leaflets for parents. The screening is available to any child of school-going age.

The AOI has encouraged members to make the screening available for as nominal a price as possible. Parents are invited to contact their local participating Independent Optometrist for further details.

The AOI added that if eye problems are diagnosed parents also have the option of having the full eye examination for children carried out by an Optometrist. The Optometrist is fully qualified and can dispense spectacles and advise appropriate management without delays.

Mylocaloptician notes the lamentable number of children who take up the opportunity of a free full eye examination within the UK which suggests there is more of an educational problem where parents consider that screening at school is adequate even though many do not go through such a process. A campaign such as the Irish programme would be welcomed by many in the UK

See also

Vision and development in children

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