Age Matters: Preventing Childhood Eye Disease

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Children are not immune to any and all health problems, and that includes issues with their eyes.
Right from the start, they can be dealt an unfair blow that affects their vision and this is where the importance of vision screening is revealed.
There are a slew of eye conditions that can plague a child’s sight: Amblyopia and Ptosis are just two of the more common ones while other childhood eye diseases include Conjunctivitis, Chalazion and Preseptal or Orbital Cellulitis.
Dr. Paul Savioli, an associate OD at Harbourview Optometry Centre in Thunder Bay, was asked how difficult it is to diagnose eye diseases in children and if there was a
particular time when kids are most at risk.
“Testing is more objective in children, as we rely less on subjective measures as children go through their critical period of development, challenges do occur more frequently,” he said. “This period is very important and intervention tends to be more successful.”
Depending on the severity of the disease, Savioli said that intervention and treatment can vary.
“With refractive issues, correcting the error and/or patching (with amblyopia) … however, patient compliance is necessary to be successful, he said. That can be a challenge in itself. With respect to more severe diseases, like cataracts and retinoblastoma, surgical intervention and/or systemic intervention may be needed. Parents
should look for any learning or developmental delays such as kids not doing well in school, not reaching milestones, avoiding close work and having behavioural issues. To rule out any guessing, we encourage parents to get their child’s eyes checked regularly.”
Dr. Ian MacDonald, a researcher, funded by the Foundation Fighting Blindness, agreed with Savioli’s statement when it comes to treating the problem: with co-operation, the diseases are manageable.
“With parental and child cooperation, treatment is easier, he said. If there are no perceived difficulties, children should have their eyes examined at least once prior to school entry between the ages of three to five years old.”
Savioli added that a regular eye exam until the age of 19 is recommended, but with some diseases there needs to be constant attention paid.
“Amblyopia, or a lazy eye that seems normal but has reduced vision, can present problems later in life, he said. These patients typically have reduced stereopsis (depth perception) and have trouble with 3D. This may be troublesome in deciding a career when the time comes.
Also, retinoblastoma is a common malignant tumour seen in childhood.
It’s got a very good cure rate at approximately 98 per cent however, there is a small percentage of patients that have the tumour spread and therefore have more complications later in life.”
For more information, visit www.eyecareforlife.com, www.cnib.ca, or consult with a recommended ophthalmologist. •

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