A recent survey conducted on behalf of the Canadian Association of Optometrists found that Saskatchewan parents rank child eye health as one of their lowest health priorities. Despite the benefits of a comprehensive eye exam, more than 40 per cent of Saskatchewan parents are not taking their child for a comprehensive eye exam.
“It is particularly concerning because eye health is such an important part of a child’s overall health and development,” says the Saskatchewan Association of Optometrists.
The survey revealed that 85 per cent of Saskatchewan parents are unaware that vision problems can cause speech difficulties, nearly 80 per cent are unaware that they can lead to developmental delays and 75 per cent of parents do not realize that a vision problem may be the cause of short attention spans in children.
Eighty per cent of a child’s learning is based on vision. Undetected and untreated vision problems often cause reading difficulties, and can elicit some of the very same signs and symptoms that are commonly attributed to issues such as ADHD, dyslexia, and speech problems.
The National Coalition for Vision Health estimates that one in four school-age children has a vision problem, yet fewer than 14 per cent of children in Canada under the age of six have had a comprehensive eye exam.
Many children participate in vision screening or sight test programs at school, which some parents misconstrue as a comprehensive eye exam.
“These tests are limited and cannot be used to diagnose a vision or eye health problem,” say Optometrists. “Studies have shown that vision screening tests have high error rates, with 43 per cent of children able to pass who actually have a problem.”
Eye exams performed by optometrists are not only important for charting a child’s eye health and ensuring they have the visual skills necessary for learning and development. They are also key to overall health maintenance. During an eye exam optometrists are also looking at the structural development of the eye and identifying any underlying health conditions that may be present.
Retinoblastoma, the most common type of eye cancer in children, accounting for approximately three per cent of all cancers that occur in children younger than 15 years of age , may show signs as early as six to nine months old. Optometrists also play a role in monitoring children with diabetes, one of the most common chronic diseases among children and youth in Canada. Optometrists look for telltale signs of retinopathy, which damages the small blood vessels in the retina.
The Association says, “Regular eye exams by a doctor of optometry play an essential role in maintaining your child’s overall health and ensuring they don’t have a vision problem that is affecting their learning and development. The Saskatchewan Association of Optometrists recommends infants have their first eye examination between six and nine months of age, another between ages two and five, and annually thereafter to ensure optimal vision and development.”
For more information or to find a doctor of optometry, visit sk.doctorsofoptometry.ca.