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Helping each child see the light

Every September, there is a lot going on that will keep entire families on their toes.

With a new school year underway, considering the importance of children's eye health comes to the forefront.

As children begin their studies, academic success can be dependent on several different factors. A child's eyesight is one that can easily be overlooked, and there are state and federal initiatives to improve child vision screening. From the local school districts, state legislatures to federal government agencies, it seems several professional groups are determined to capture this elusive medical concern. Many entities are actively involved to assess and reassess effectiveness of current approaches to vision problems. These agencies also continue to reevaluate current recommendations and their potential barriers to healthy child development as well as children's future academic performance.

It has been proven early detection of pediatric vision impairments can greatly improve outcomes.

I would like to discuss a couple of the more common eye problems that occur with children. The first is called strabismus, also known as "lazy eye" or "crossed eyes." Strabismus is a condition where the eyes are not properly aligned with each other. This medical condition could be due to incoordination with the muscles of the eye or possibly from the brain coordinating the eyes. Your child's physician or health care provider can perform a quick screening exam for this medical condition.

One quick test is called the Hirschberg test. A flashlight is shined in the patient's eye. When the patient is looking at the light, a reflection can be seen on the front surface of the pupil. If the eyes are properly aligned with one another, the reflection will be in the same spot of each eye. If the reflection is not in the same place in each eye, the eyes are not properly aligned. The optimal time period to test for this condition is between three and six months.

Another common condition is called refractive error. Refractive error is an error in the focusing of light of the eye and a frequent culprit for reduced visual acuity. Essentially, people who suffer from this condition frequently experience blurriness of vision.

Refractive error can occur in both children and adults. Frequently, with children this diagnosis can give subtle hints prior to the formal diagnosis.

Examples of such clues are squinting, headaches, eye-strain, blurriness, halos around lights and double vision. Typically, the diagnosis of refractive error is given after the results of a formal eye exam. The eye care professional will use a phoropter that contains a large number of lenses to estimate the amount of refractory error. Refractory error can be treated with glasses, contacts, surgical intervention or a combination of these options.

Unfortunately, vision problems are common among school aged children. Approximately, 13.5 million children are affected with such challenges. To counter this, challenge federal and state legislative and regulatory measures have been adopted. Local school districts also are actively involved with such interventions and mandates. Vision screening continues to be a topic of high importance with all of these agencies.

I believe everyone would agree that clear vision for all Kansas children would be a magnificent sight to see. I have briefly discussed only two common eye problems with children.

Unfortunately, there are numerous others that involve both children and adults. If there are potential reservations regarding the vision of your child, please consider a formal eye exam.

As with all medical conditions, always feel free to contact your physician or health care provider with any questions or concerns.

Dr. Charles Weintz is the author of "Healthy Headlines." He is a family physician and medical director at Stanton County Family Practice.