Eyesight problems in children going undetected

Vision problems in children are increasing a new study has found, with up to one in three children in low decile schools having undetected eyesight problems.

A Massey University study has found that even though there are before-school checks, there are gaps in the system which means children’s vision problems can go undetected and affect their learning.

The four-year-old check screens for amblyopia, strabismus and issues with distance acuity issues.  This test does not screen for myopia.

“This test at present does not pick up many of the more minor refractive errors that may cause problems if uncorrected. Sometimes children miss this check and even if they do attend and an issue is picked up and referred to either a hospital or optometrist there is no formal follow-up to ensure that the child has attended.  The next check does not occur until year 8,” says one of the study’s authors Dr Julia Budd.

She also says that there is some evidence internationally and nationally that myopia is increasing.

She says too, that poverty may hinder a family’s ability to attend checks and other appointments and even though there was a glasses subsidy for those with a Community Services Card it might not cover the provision of specialised lenses.

No subsidy is available for others on low incomes.

She says that educators, parents and caregivers are well-placed to watch out for in children which may indicate vision problems which will affect their ability to learn. Common issues to look out for include:

  • Sitting too close to the TV, Blackboard or holding a book very close to their eyes
  • Frequent eye rubbing when trying to concentrate on something
  • Losing their place or tracking with their finger when reading (obviously when learning to read this may be normal but as they get better this should be dropped)
  • Sensitivity to light or constant tearing
  • Headaches and possible nausea
  • Closing one eye when trying to see things
  • If their grades are deteriorating – particularly as print size reduces in texts
  • Avoid using the computer as say their eyes are hurting
  • Squinting or tilting their head to see things better such as the blackboard

She says encouraging children to wear the glasses and making it a part of the school culture also helps.

Budd says the study needs to continue as it raised a number of important areas that need further investigation, but a larger more in-depth longitudinal study is needed, and for this they require substantial external funding. – Kate Drury


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