Children’s eye health at risk due to a poor eye care regime

Children are missing out on vital eye health care because parents believe their children’s vision is tested at school say the Association of Optometrists as it launches its A B See campaign.

A report released by the Association of Optometrists (AOP) shows that more than half (52%) of parents with school age children thought their child would have a full sight test at primary school.

Yet, sight tests are not offered routinely at schools throughout the UK, which could mean that many children are suffering with undiagnosed eye conditions, despite there being a ‘window of time’ for treating certain issues.

The study also showed that nearly three quarters (74%) of practising optometrists have seen children in the past year who had vision problems that could have been treated more successfully if they had been diagnosed at an earlier age2.

However, a quarter (24%) of 4-16-year-olds had never been taken for a sight test by their parents.

Over a quarter (27%) of parents admitted to waiting for their child to show certain behaviours before taking them for a sight test, such as sitting too close to the television or holding books close to their eyes.

While one in seven (14%) admitted to only booking a sight test when their child told them they were having trouble seeing.

Optometrist and Clinical Advisor for the AOP, Farah Topia explained: “The AOP’s research demonstrates that unfortunately there is a huge gap between what most parents think is provided, and the eye health care that children actually receive at school, through vision screening. Many parents also don’t realise that there is a window of opportunity to treat certain eye conditions which is why many practitioners are seeing children come in, with a condition that could have been treated much more effectively, had they been seen earlier.

“It’s important to remember that conditions such as amblyopia, or lazy eye as it is often known, can have a detrimental impact on social and academic development as well as career options, later in life. This is why, the AOP is advocating that parents take their children for a sight test, which is NHS-funded for those below the age of 16 – as it’s the best way to make sure conditions are picked up and treated early”.

Ms Topia added: “As a rule of thumb, it is good for children to have their first sight test around the age of three, but children can have a sight test at any age, if a problem is suspected.”

Cost also played a part: one in 10 (10%) parents wrongly believed they must pay for sight tests for under 16s and the overwhelming majority (83%) would be more inclined to book a sight test for their child knowing that it is funded by the NHS.

Key data:
– Over 3.4million 4-16 year-olds in the UK have been diagnosed with a sight problem
– 13% of children have an undiagnosed common sight problem that impacts their learning and development
-Nearly all optometrists (94%) believed parents should receive more information about their children’s eye health through schools, GP surgeries, health visitors and the personal health record book
-The majority of optometrists (88%) were aware that many parents were unsure to what extent their child’s eyes are tested at school
– One in ten (11%) parents believed children don’t need sight tests unless they start showing symptoms, like straining to see something
– One in five teenagers in the UK are short-sighted
– One in 50 children will develop amblyopia, commonly known as lazy eye. Amblyopia can become more difficult to treat as a child grows older so it’s important to get their vision checked early8
– To raise awareness of the importance of vision for a child’s development, the AOP is launching its A B See campaign, designed to help make sure children achieve their full potential.

As part of the campaign, the AOP is recommending that parents take their children for an NHS-funded sight test, at their local opticians, every two years, or more often if their optometrist recommends it.