As nearly one-third of America’s preschoolers fall through the cracks of vision screenings, the American Optometric Association (AOA) says that change is essential. Calling for a policy of “zero tolerance,” the AOA today responded to alarming results from Phase 2 of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Vision in Preschoolers (VIP) study, meant to identify whether vision screenings can accurately identify preschool-aged children who would benefit from a comprehensive vision exam.
According to the NIH research, neither trained nurses nor trained lay people in the study using the best screening tests possible were able to identify nearly one-third of even the most prevalent vision disorders in children. Disorders such as amblyopia (lazy eye), strabismus (eye misalignment), and refractive errors (poor vision that can be corrected with glasses or contact lenses) were missed during the study’s screening process.
“These results are staggering and deeply concerning,” said Dr. Richard Wallingford, O.D., president of the AOA. “Optometry is committed to ensuring that no child is left behind due to vision problems.”
Overall, the NIH findings are consistent with earlier NIH research (April 2004) that identified comprehensive eye exams administered by optometrists and ophthalmologists as the “Gold Standard Eye Examination” for school-aged children.
“AOA leadership and doctors of optometry have long realized the need for comprehensive eye exams especially for young children,” said Wallingford. “We need teachers, parents, educational institutions and lawmakers to join with us in showing that we have zero tolerance for failing to identify vision problems in our kids that can be readily diagnosed and treated by an optometrist. I commend the NIH for commissioning this critically important research into children’s vision which continues to show that comprehensive eye exams are the most effective way to ensure that vision problems do not prevent children from learning.”
According to the AOA, vision screenings are not diagnostic nor do they typically lead to treatment, rather, screenings serve as an indication for a potential need to receive further eye care. Many screening facilities also often lack equipment to screen young children. In this particular study, the most advanced screening instrument used, the Retinomax Autorefractor, missed 32 percent of the vision conditions being specifically tested for in participating children. The second most advanced instrument, the SureSight Vision Screener, missed 36 percent of the children’s vision disorders. Other testing instruments had failure rates as high as 50 percent.
”Approximately 25 percent of all school-aged children have vision problems,” said Wallingford. “Clearly the prevalence of vision disorders present in children and the limitations of vision screenings support the need for and value of early detection through a comprehensive eye and vision exam by an eye doctor. One child missed is one too many. We need to work collaboratively toward zero tolerance.”
The American Optometric Association represents more than 34,000 doctors of optometry, optometry students and paraoptometric assistants and technicians.