Eye doctors promote kindergarten eye health in SD43
Parents of kindergarten children in School District 43 should pay close attention to a letter that should have come in their kid’s backpacks this week alerting them to an important program that could save their child’s vision.
The letter, from SD43 and local eye doctors, offers free vision care testing and, if problems are detected, free glasses, from participating eye doctors. (The list is on the back of the letter).
The offer, called the Eye See Eye Learn program, is good until Aug. 31 for this year’s crop of kindergarten students and parents shouldn’t miss out on the opportunity in case their children are experiencing eye problems they haven’t complained about.
Dr. Lloyd Mah, a BC Association of Optometrists (BCOA) director who is heading the program, said conditions such as farsightedness may make a child’s close-up vision blurry but not all will receive a referral when their eyes are screened at school. That’s because children with this condition can still see but may have trouble concentrating or get eye strain headaches because they have to use specific eye muscles to help them focus, Mah said.
And when farsightedness, or hyperopia, goes undetected, it can lead to learning problems and even diagnoses of ADD and ADHD. In fact, according to May, 60% of all children with learning disabilities have an unidentified vision problem, commonly hyperopia.
As well, a thorough eye exam may detect other childhood vision problems, such as amblyopia, in which one eye over-compensates for another, that could lead to blindness if not corrected.
“We want to provide the gold standard of eye care to Tri-Cities kindergarten children,” Mah said.
The pilot program is modelled on a similar program in Alberta and Mah said the BCOA wanted to bring it to this province in the hopes of catching childhood vision problems early before they become lifelong challenges and obstacles to education, jobs and healthy lifestyles.
“A lot of these conditions go undetected because a child can’t tell you what’s wrong,” Mah said.
Last year, for example, Mah detected abnormal swelling in the eye of a six-year-old during an eye exam in his Coquitlam office. After he referred the child to a neurosurgeon, it turned out the child had a brain tumour and had to have brain surgery two days later, from which the child is still recovering.
Participating doctors will do the eye exam for the kindergarten student with no cost to the family, including those without MSP, and prescribe and provide the appropriate eyewear. Three sponsors have come on board to support the program.
Parents simply need to sign the letter with their child’s birthdate and personal health number. No means testing is required to participate, Mah said, adding, “We want to eliminate barriers to eye health.”