President highlights lack of awareness of children’s eye care

Press Release 09/09/09

Andrew Petticrew, President of the Northern Ireland Optometric Society (NIOS), this week has highlighted the lack of public awareness regarding looking after young people’s eyes. Andrew said, “The news this week that up to 1 million children in the UK will go back to school this autumn with an undetected vision problem has brought this issue back to the public eye again. I have a special interest in young children’s eyes and consequently am passionate about it. The only problem is public awareness.”

A local study of 128 parents in Belfast City Centre about their attitudes to children’s healthcare and children’s eye care in particular, showed a startling lack of awareness in this area. It showed that whilst parents regard healthcare as a priority, they were unaware of the importance of eye care.

Only 22% of parents were looking after their children’s eyes properly, having yearly eye examinations and a startling 49% of parents of children aged under-8 had never had their children’s eyes examined. In comparison parents were much more aware of dental care, with over 75% of parents having had their children’s teeth examined every year. Parents quoted fear of cost, inconvenience and fear of their children being prescribed glasses as key factors.

Andrew continued, “Children’s eye examinations at your local optometrist’s (or opticians shop) are completely paid for by the NHS as are glasses, if required. I find that many parents (especially dads) have a very strong preconception that their child will end up with glasses if they go to an optometrist, and that these glasses could be potentially harmful to their child’s eyes in the long run. This could not be further from the truth. Firstly, I tell my patients that I see it as my job to keep my patients out of wearing glasses wherever possible. Secondly, in my opinion, where glasses are required for children, this is one of the few situations where not wearing glasses could really do serious permanent harm. In adults, it is not usually as serious.”

One of the reasons that eyesight is particularly important for children is that they are learning all the time. 80% of the information that goes into the human brain in the entire lifetime goes in via the eyes. The other four senses only make up 20% combined. This means that any shortcoming in a child’s vision has very far reaching consequences. Children with poor eyesight have impaired academic development and possibly more alarmingly, social development.

Andrew said, “I often see children who are labelled ‘poor readers’ or ‘no scholar’ when they actually have a significant eye condition which is easily sorted out. As a dad myself, I know we all want to do the very best for our children and this is a way that we really can do more. It’s good that it is free too!”

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