1.6Million school-aged children estimated to be living with an undetected vision problem
24 September

1.6Million school-aged children estimated to be living with an undetected vision problem

More than one and a half Million (1.6Million) school–aged children in the UK could be living with an un-diagnosed vision problem that impacts on their educational and social development according to new figures released by National Eye Health Week.

With up to eighty to eighty-five per cent of our perception, learning, cognition and activities facilitated through vision, it’s clear that the quality of a child’s eyesight plays a vital role in his or her development, especially in their early years.

A recent study by a team of UK academics published in the British Medical Journal found a clear link between visual ability in young children and reading and writing levels. Children with reduced visual acuity – a measure of how well we view detail – had significantly lower literacy development even when other factors – such as demographic, socio-economic and cognitive skills – were taken into account.

Poor vision in younger children is often due to the presence of Amblyopia (lazy eye) – a developmental disorder that leads to reduced vision. The human eye continues to develop until we reach about eight years of age giving just a small window of time where good vision can be restored through early detection and treatment. Unfortunately, there are few signs and symptoms to observe so detection is very difficult for parents, carers and teachers.

David Cartwright Chairman National Eye Health Week continued: “As a child’s eyesight is usually fully developed by the age of eight, regular sight tests, every two years unless advised otherwise by your optometrist, are crucial. Sight tests for all children in the UK are free and funded by the NHS – the only investment parents have to make is time.

Conditions such as squint or amblyopia can lead to lifelong problems so it really is a case of ‘After Eight is too Late’. If detected early amblyopia and squint can often be corrected and other visual problems such as childhood myopia can be managed effectively, yet, fifty per cent of parents with children aged eight and under have never taken their child for a sight test.”

Levels of Myopia (short-sight), which typically occurs in childhood between the ages of six and 13, have more than doubled over the last 50 years and currently affect around a fifth of all teenagers in the UK.

It's often difficult to tell if your child is having problems with their eyes but some tell-tale signs that there could be something wrong include struggling to recognise colours and shapes; frequently bumping into things; not showing any interest in learning to read; not progressing or being disengaged at school; complaining about headaches and sitting very close to the TV.

You may also recognise some physical signs, including:

  • Rubbing eyes frequently
  • Squinting, head-tilting or closing one eye when trying to focus
  • One eye turning in or out
  • Blinking a lot
  • Excessive tearing
  • Red, sore or encrusted eye lids

A wealth of clinical evidence has recently emerged to suggest that lifestyle factors can play a role in keeping children’s eyes healthy, including the importance of outdoor play in preventing the onset of myopia. Mark Mackey wrote to local MLA's last year to let them know about studies in Australia, South Korea and China that recommend that children should be outside for over twenty hours per week. 

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