41% of children between the ages of 2 and 10 have never been to an ophthalmologist

An IMO survey reveals that 79% of children have a family history of poor vision, but only 36% of parents take this into account when addressing their children’s eye health

An IMO survey reveals that 79% of children have a family history of poor vision, but only 36% of parents take this into account when addressing their children’s eye health

41% of children between the ages of 2 and 10 have never been to an ophthalmologist, according to the results of a survey conducted by the Instituto de Microcirugía Ocular (IMO) during the Barcelona Children’s Festival, which took place between 27 December and 4 January. A sample of 500 parents of children between those ages revealed that 206 had never taken their children to a specialist, in spite of the fact that 79% of them admitted having vision problems in the family (either themselves, aunts and uncles or grandparents). Only 36% indicated that their family history of problems had influenced their attitude towards the visual health of their children and only 3% cite this fact as the main reason for taking their children to the ophthalmologist.

According to Dr Ana Wert, a paediatric ophthalmologist at IMO, "the high percentage of visual problems in adults should encourage parents to have their children’s vision checked." According to the ophthalmologist, many parents are unaware that eye problems, including refractive errors such as myopia, hyperopia and astigmatism, can be hereditary or can affect those with a significant genetic predisposition."

Ocular deviation

For 59% of the parents surveyed, the main reason for visiting the ophthalmologist was for their child to have a routine check-up (57%), while 36% went after detecting a problem with their children’s vision, in particular, ocular deviation (8% of this segment). Added to this is a group of 4% of parents, whose main reason for going was explicit advice from their paediatrician. Although they do not cite it as the main reason for visiting the ophthalmologist, 53% indicated that at some point their paediatrician had advised them to go, while 41% said that the specialist had never advised them and that they went on their own initiative. A further 5% said that they had been recommended by friends or relatives, while in only three cases were parents advised by the child’s school or teachers.

Paediatric check-ups

Regarding paediatric check-ups, 38% of the parents surveyed said that their children’s vision had not been examined in general childhood health check-ups, while 62% said it was. In this regard, 40% of parents believed that much less importance was attached to examining vision than the rest of the child’s health.

Knowledge of the key concepts of visual development in childhood was similarly deficient among parents of children between the ages of 2 and 10, as evidenced by some of the survey data. 78% did not know the meaning of binocular vision (the combining of images from both eyes and the ability to see in three dimensions) and an even higher percentage, 80%, did not know what amblyopia was. This condition, also known as "lazy eye", is very common in children and occurs as a result of strabismus, a refractive error or another eye problem that affects one eye more acutely than the other. It causes the brain to receive two different images that do not complement each other, resulting in the brain ignoring vision from one of the two eyes (the most distorted) and, therefore, preventing vision in that eye from developing, if not treated in childhood.

According to Dr Wert, "to check for visual asymmetry (when one eye sees better than the other), parents, as well as taking their children for eye check-ups, should also give them simple tests at home, such as getting them to look at a picture with one eye covered and then the other." 51% of parents, however, said that they had never checked their children’s vision at home.

Regarding the level of knowledge about an eye disorder that is directly associated with childhood, strabismus, the results improve substantially, with only 13% not knowing about the problem, in which one or both eyes deviate from the central axis. "Parents are generally better informed, because strabismus is symptomatic, and they are the ones who first detect it and take the child to see a specialist, when the condition is in its early stages," IMO specialist explains.

When asked about eye disorders, 18% of respondents who had taken their children to the ophthalmologist said that their child had a diagnosed eye problem. Although visual disorders in children are highly varied, the ones that were most common among respondents’ children were strabismus (20%), refractive problems (17%) and lazy eye (11%).

The importance of prevention

According to Dr Wert, "it is of some concern that 41% of children remain undiagnosed and have never been to the ophthalmologist." To address this issue, IMO conducted a simple vision test for 750 children between the ages of 2 and 10 at the Barcelona Children’s Festival, which revealed that 4% might have a problem with refraction or amblyopia and that about 80% of them had never had an eye examination.

This vision test and the surveys conducted at the Children’s Festival are part of a children’s eye health campaign promoted by IMO, which will culminate this week with free eye check-ups at IMO and a talk for parents and teachers to be given tomorrow by Dr Ana Wert (7:00 pm – 8:00 pm in IMO’s auditorium, C. Josep Maria Lladó, 3 [Exit 7 of the Ronda de Dalt]).