Optometry Australia (OA) has warned that thousands of children risk falling behind at school due to the increasing prevalence of undiagnosed myopia and other vision-related issues.
The peak national body cited statistics that indicated only 8% of Australian children aged 0–14 had had a comprehensive vision assessment in 2016, despite an estimated one in five suffering from an undetected vision problem.
OA’s resident optometrist, Mr Luke Arundel, said a lack of awareness was the primary cause for the low rate and that it was important for the public to understand the potential consequences undetected vision problems could have.
“The impact of not being able to see properly cannot be underestimated. Particularly amongst school-aged children, who may not be able to see their teacher, blackboards or education aids properly and may fall behind in learning and then start to lose confidence,” Arundel said.
“It’s an underserviced segment of the community. If you look at what our American colleagues are doing, they’re really pushing even further into children’s optometry and recommending that everyone has a check up at six months of age, then three and then regularly from there.
“It’s an area that’s super important. Poor vision really does effect these kids in a big way, and with 85% of blindness preventable or treatable with early detection we feel it’s also important to get the next generation of Aussies in the habit of regular health checks – something we have been promoting for the entire sector through the goodvisionforlife.com website and media campaigns.”
Arundel also said that while useful for picking up certain conditions, screening in schools was inconsistent and not a substitute for a comprehensive vision assessment.
“There’s certainly a place for vision screenings, but the problem with different state based regulations is there’s no uniformity or consistency across Australia. Some states do a great job, other states are doing a poor job, and it tends to flip-flop depending on who’s in government and how much money is being thrown around,” Arundel told Insight.
“At the end of the day, a screening’s just a screening, and its certainly not going to pick up everything. We recommend that all kids receive a comprehensive eye evaluation with an optometrist before starting school.”