August is Children's Eye Health & Safety Awareness Month
February 7, 2017
When it comes to children’s eye care, early vision screening is the key
In observance of Children’s Eye Health and Safety Awareness Month, the EyeSight Foundation of Alabama invites you to “listen in” on our recent conversation with representatives from two statewide organizations committed to children’s eye health. We asked Sarah Louise Smith, executive director of FocusFirst, and Jeff Haddox, president, CEO and founder of Sight Savers America, to give us their views on children’s eye care and why it’s such a critical issue here in Alabama.
ESFA: Why is an emphasis on children’s eye health important?
Sarah Louise: Imagine trying to learn your letters without your most valuable sense: sight. The scariest thing about children having vision problems during their preschool years is that they can’t detect them – so they can’t tell anyone about them. Poor vision adversely affects tens of thousands of children in our state each year. These problems are heightened in families from economically disadvantaged backgrounds due to lack of access to appropriate eye care. Studies have shown that vision problems among children have been linked with behavioral risks, reduced academic performance and low self-esteem.
Jeff: The CDC states that 80 percent of what children learn is visual, so identifying and improving poor vision at an early age gives children their best opportunity for academic success in their formative years. In older children, improved vision can lead to improved reading, education, job opportunities, social interaction and overall well being.
The overwhelming majority of vision problems, when identified and treated at an early age, can be corrected or even reversed. Left untreated, amblyopia leads to permanent vision loss, and retinoblastoma can lead to blindness or death.
ESFA: What is the most important thing that parents can do to maintain children’s eye health?
Sarah Louise: Vision screenings during the preschool years when early identification and treatment of many conditions can prevent irreversible vision damage or loss. But despite the importance of early screening and detection, only an estimated 21 percent of preschool children receive comprehensive vision screenings. Regular vision screenings throughout children’s early years are vital to maintaining healthy eyes and avoiding permanent damage to children’s eyesight.
Jeff: Parents should take their children to an eye doctor at an early age for a comprehensive eye exam. If the baseline exam is normal, then the exam should be repeated every two years. If the baseline exam identifies a vision problem, then parents should follow their eye doctor’s recommendations for regular examinations, eyeglasses and other necessary treatment.
ESFA: What does your organization do to keep children’s eyes healthy?
Sarah Louise: FocusFirst provides a cost-effective direct response to the vision problems of children who live in urban and rural communities across Alabama. Under the supervision of Impact Alabama AmeriCorps members, trained undergraduate and graduate students provide free visions screenings to children, ages six months to five years, in Head Starts and lower-income daycares using high-tech photo optic scan cameras. Children failing the screenings receive free follow-up care through Sight Savers America.
Over the last ten years, nearly 2,800 college students at more than twenty colleges and universities throughout Alabama have screened more than 226,000 children in 67 counties across the state. Approximately 11 percent of the children failed the screenings and received follow-up care.
Jeff: Sight Savers America case manages follow-up eye care for children who fail vision screenings or who are otherwise thought to have a vision problem. Services coordinated and provided by Sight Savers include vision screening, dilated eye exams, prescription eyeglasses, eye patching for amblyopia, vision therapy, aphakic contact lenses, medications, eye surgery, eye prosthetics and vision aids for children with low vision. We also help parents obtain transportation and insurance for their uninsured children.
Our low vision program coordinates specialist evaluations and provides high tech electronic video magnifiers and other vision aids that enable legally blind children to maximize their remaining sight. All of our services are provided to qualified medically and financially needy children at no cost to their families. We assist qualified children up to age 19 and over the lifespan of their low vision aids.
For more information on the work being done by FocusFirst and Sight Savers America, visit their websites at impactalabama.org/initiatives/focus-first and sightsaversamerica.org.