Specialists warn of a high number of hidden eye diseases in children

10% of the 1,144 children examined free of charge by the IMO Foundation during Barcelona Children’s Festival could have eye problems.

The basic visual acuity checks performed by a team of IMO optometrists identified possible problems in a total of 116 children, almost all of whom had no optical correction and had not been previously diagnosed. 44% of the problems detected were associated with amblyopia (a significant difference in visual acuity between the two eyes). 52 children (4.5% of the total checked) could have this disorder, which causes what is known as “lazy eye” (vision in the worse eye ceases to develop and becomes chronically underused if it is not optically corrected and/or occluded in childhood). In 16 of the amblyopia cases, an associated refractive problemwas also detected.

In general, the main refractive problem detected was hyperopia or difficulty focusing on near objects (34 cases), followed by astigmatism or difficulty with far and near vision (28 cases, eight of which were combined with another refractive error) and myopia (18 cases). Also diagnosed were five cases of strabismus (crossed eyes), which had gone unnoticed by parents and teachers, and three other cases of various eye disorders, such as corneal opacity, anisocoria (difference in pupil size, which, although in some cases can be physiological, is usually a sign of neuronal, vascular or severe infectious disease) and one case of accommodative spasm (the crystalline lens has to force itself so much to see well at a certain distance that it becomes stuck and unable to accommodate or focus at different distances).

Check-ups at Salón Infancia in Barcelona

This is the second year that IMO Foundation has organised eye checks at the Children’s Festival. Last year, 4% of the 750 children who were checked had suspected eye problems. The increase in diagnosed or suspected disorders during this edition has attracted the attention of specialists, who warn of the importance of increasing the number of eye examinations in childhood, since “as has been shown, problems often go unnoticed by parents, teachers and paediatricians at a time when diagnosis and treatment of children before the age of 7 or 8, when vision is reaching full development, is crucial to prevent problems from becoming chronic,” explains Laura González, an IMO optometrist. In addition to routine check-ups, the optometrist recommends “being especially aware of certain symptoms that are not always associated with visual problems, such as difficulty in reading or doing school work or recurrent headaches.". For example, the optometrist explains that “during the Children’s Festival checks, undiagnosed hyperopia was detected in a boy who, according to his parents, complained of recurrent headaches and had been to see a paediatrician, ENT specialist and neurologist, none of whom were able to explain the reason for the discomfort.”

According to the specialist, “an ophthalmologist is a basic specialist for this type of symptom, since headaches, fatigue or academic underachievement are related to vision much more often than people suspect.” Almost 3 out of every 100 children examined at the Children’s Festival showed signs of hyperopia, although one would imagine that the number of children with this refractive error would be even higher, since hyperopia can easily go unnoticed because children compensate for this error by forcing accommodation (the ability of the crystalline lens to focus), a practice that causes headaches, eyestrain, eye redness, stinging and tearing, all of which are normally associated with this vision problem. According to IMO specialist, “the visual acuity checks that we performed at the Children’s Festival are just illustrative. For a good diagnosis, especially for hyperopia, it is important to have a thorough ophthalmic examination with the pupil dilated.”

Listen here to the interview on the radio programme “El món a RAC1” during its visit to the stand on 27 December.

Children's check-ups: prevention and risks, Dr. Wert - IMO Barcelona

As well as the visual acuity tests, children who visited IMO Foundation’s stand during the Christmas holidays were able to find out about the eye and how it works through a large model that showed all of its main parts: cornea, iris, pupil, crystalline lens, eyeball and optic nerve. The children were able to take a tour of these structures, replicating the journey taken by light from outside the eye to the brain. They were also able to experience 3D vision through an activity organised by the Catalonian College of Opticians and Optometrists, which, this year, wanted to collaborate with the IMO Foundation in raising awareness about the importance of preventing eye problems among children.