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Eye screenings recommended for young children

March 29, 2013

An eye patch is commonly used for one of two reasons in young kids. One, your child is impersonating Johnny Depp and playing “pirate for the day”. Or two, the patch is being used to treat a condition known as “amblyopia”, also known as “lazy-eye”. Amblyopia is a condition that is easily preventable, which is why pediatricians are now urging eye screening for children as young as 1 year of age.

What is amblyopia?

Amblyopia occurs when the brain is not using one eye because it doesn’t see as well as the other eye. This condition only occurs in children and if left untreated, can result in permanent loss of vision. Amblyopia is the most common cause of vision problems in children, affecting 2 – 4% of the US population and is preventable.

If it's easily preventable, then why is it so common?

Good question. Currently, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) only recommends testing children for amblyopia between the ages of 3 and 5, stating there is insufficient evidence to recommend testing for younger children. However, a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics shows otherwise.

The Study

The goal of this study was to help provide the USPSTF with the evidence needed to include toddlers in their recommendations. Data was collected from a photoscreening program called “Iowa KidSight”, a program that has been offering photoscreening to children as young as 6 months of age since 2000. Over 200,000 screenings of children’s eyes were conducted from May 2000 to April 2011. Of the children screened, the youngest were 6 months old and the oldest were between 7 and 8 years old. Researchers used the data collected by this program (over 11 years worth of data) to compare screening results of young children with that of preschool-aged children.

After studying the data, researchers found no difference in the accuracy and reliability of vision photoscreening in the toddler age group (1 to 2 years old) when compared to the preschoolers, children 3 to 5 years of age. Based on this study, the argument can be made that screening children as young as a 1 year of age can be beneficial when testing for amblyopia.

So what?

You may be wondering “what difference does it make if my child is screened at 1 year of age versus 5 years of age?”. Actually, there is a significant difference. Treatment of amblyopia is able to restore proper vision in children. However, the success rates decrease with increasing age. Because early intervention is the key to effective treatment, pediatricians are now recommending that children be screened at an earlier age.

This painless, easy eye screening can help prevent a lifetime of vision troubles for your child. So what are you waiting for? 

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