There seems to be an alarming rise of visual impairments in preschool aged children. The bad news is research tells us that the numbers will only rise.
What is causing this rise in vision impairments in children seems to be uncorrected refractive errors. How can something with a simple solution be causing so much disarray?
Well, a lack of understanding and the cost of vision care are two of the biggest culprits. And they’re crippling our children’s vision.
According to a study published in JAMA Ophthalmology, by the year 2060, visual impairments in preschool aged children will have risen by 26 percent. Sure, 2060 seems a long ways away and 26 percent doesn’t seem like much. But we need to take into consideration how many children are affected by these visual impairments today.
The most recent count of visually impaired children between the ages of three and five was done in 2015. The findings showed that more than 175,000 preschool aged children had vision impairments.
These vision impairments? They were almost all a result of an uncorrected refractive error (69 percent of the cases). As for the rest of the cases, they were due to amblyopia (lazy eye).
The Refractive Errors
When a refractive error goes uncorrected, it will no doubt visually impair your child. This will make doing activities such as drawing, coloring, playing games and sports, and doing puzzles extremely difficult. These are all activities that are imperative to their early learning.
Developing the skills required to draw, play sports and solve puzzles are important for cognitive development and hand-eye coordination. These skills will help them excel in their future studies. They will also help to foster a healthy and loving relationship with learning.
More and more, children are being sent off to learn on the wrong foot. This will only set them up for frustration and failure.
Myopia, also known as nearsightedness, is the most common refractive error among youngsters. The condition means that objects in the distance appear blurry, while objects close to the eye appear clearly.
Myopia occurs when the eyeball is too long for the lens and light is refracted to the front of the retina as opposed to directly on it. Often, young children will grow out of myopia as their eyeballs grow and change to fit the lens. However, this is not always the case.
While myopia may not affect your child’s ability to learn to read and draw, it will impede activities such as playing sports, which can lead them to become less active. Kids need a healthy balance of physical activity as well as cognitive activity to stimulate all their senses.
Hyperopia is another refractive error that could be behind your child’s visual impairments. It is also called farsightedness. Hyperopia, contrary to myopia, causes distant objects to appear clearly while objects close to the eye will be blurry.
Hyperopia is caused when the eyeball is too short of the lens. The light is then refracted towards the back of the retina. Because hyperopia is experienced differently by every person, it may not be so obvious when it is present.
When someone has hyperopia, it is possible that even distant objects appear blurry, however near objects will be even more blurry. In some cases, the degree that separates the blurriness may be so little that you may not be able to tell without an eye exam.
Hyperopia will affect your child’s ability to learn to read and develop the cognitive skills required for the rest of their learning career. Without the basic building blocks of being able to read and write, your child will have a great deal of difficulty once they begin school.
Lack of Understanding and Poverty
The reason these visual impairments are on the rise is because these refractive errors, which can be treated easily with corrective lenses and vision therapy, are going undiagnosed.
Why are they going undiagnosed? It’s simple. There simply isn’t enough awareness when it comes to eye care. Many parents don’t take care of their own eyes, let alone take care of their child’s eys.
However, parents are not fully to blame. There isn’t a whole lot of emphasis on eye care in mainstream health care. This is especially true if you have limited money to spend on health care.
Parents will take their children to their pediatricians who are qualified to administer a basic eye exam, but these exams are never done in depth. You would have to take your child to a separate doctor who specializes in early childhood eye care to get a comprehensive exam.
Herein lies our next problem. Taking your child to multiple doctors can be tough on the wallet, especially for those of low income families. According to the JAMA study, minority children will be most at risk to suffer from visual impairments because they come from lower income families that may not be able to afford vision care.
According to a study from The Working Poor Families Project, minority families are struggling to break out of poverty. Though it is projected that they will make up most of the work force in a few years, many things come into play when talking about poverty such as education, pay inequality and lack of job advancement opportunities.
Poverty no doubt plays a large role in a child’s health care, especially when a visit to the eye doctor can cost anywhere upwards of $50. Though that may not seem like a lot of money to many, to most it could mean having to choose between buying groceries for the week or getting an eye exam.
Solving this problem of undetected refractive errors in preschool aged children is easy in theory but less so in practice. Parents need to be better informed about their children’s eyes. They need to know why eye care is especially important between the ages of three to five.
Many schools across the United States have begun issuing vision screenings at the start of the school year, but now we need to bring them into preschools. Though a vision screening is no match for an eye exam, it will be able to detect any refractive errors your child may have.
In making eye care more accessible to those without health care, it will aid in reducing the number of children with vision impairments. More than anything, the cost of an eye exam is what keeps parents away from the eye doctor. Raising a child is expensive enough without the added stress of medical bills.