Most Americans are unaware that one in 10 infants in the U.S. has an undetected vision problem which, if left untreated, can lead to developmental delays, permanent vision problems and in rare cases, life-threatening health risks. Although most parents are aware that vision disorders can be detected in infants, few take action. Only 18 percent of parents who participated in the American Optometric Association’s (AOA) 2011 American Eye-Q®survey report taking their infant to an eye doctor for a comprehensive assessment before the child’s first birthday.
An infant’s visual development is critical between six and 12 months of age. Therefore, InfantSEE®,a year-round public health program developed by Optometry Cares® – The AOA Foundation and Vistakon, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc., was designed to provide professional eye care for infants nationwide at no-cost, regardless of family income, insurance or number of eligible children.
“It’s difficult to notice vision problems in infants without a thorough, comprehensive eye exam,” said Dr. Glen Steele, optometrist and chair of the InfantSEE® committee. “Even if a child is hitting all his or her developmental milestones and not showing any signs of problems, there could still be issues with the child’s vision. Identifying problems and beginning treatment as early as possible is key.”
According to the AOA’s American Eye-Q®survey, the majority of parents are aware that lazy eye (61 percent) and crossed eyes (63 percent) can be detected in infants but less than one-third were aware that cancer, farsightedness and nearsightedness may also be detected during an infant exam.
Although vision and eye health problems aren’t common in infants, it’s important to identify specific risk factors early so issues can be addressed before they negatively affect a child’s overall development and quality of life.
Preparing for a Trip to the Optometrist
Traditional eye chart testing requires identification of letters or symbols and demands sustained attention, making it impossible to use with infants and toddlers. Instead, an evaluation of visual acuity includes tests to assess whether an infant can fix his or her eyes on an object and follow the object, or identify targets with decreasing contrast.
Family health history is also an important part of an infant’s eye assessment. An optometrist will want to know about the parents’ vision problems as well as the broader family’s eye and medical history and developmental history. Factors that may indicate a baby is at risk for visual impairment include:
- Premature birth, low birth weight or oxygen used following birth
- Difficult or assisted labor, which may be associated with fetal distress or low APGAR scores
- Family history of eye diseases such as retinoblastoma (eye cancer), congenital cataracts, or metabolic or genetic disease
- Drug or alcohol use during pregnancy
InfantSEE® assessments are complementary to the routine well-care exams a baby receives from a pediatrician or family physician. Optometrists have the training to identify areas of risk that are critical to vision development and the skills to identify conditions that might not be detected in a routine pediatric wellness exam. In some cases, conditions may need to be monitored, immediately treated or referred to a pediatric eye specialist.
The AOA recommends that a child’s first eye exam take place at six months of age. Unless problems are detected, the next exam should be at age three, again before entering school and then yearly.
To learn more about InfantSEE®visit www.InfantSEE.org or call toll free 888-396-EYES (3937).
About the American Eye-Q® survey:
The sixth annual American Eye-Q® survey was created and commissioned in conjunction with Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates (PSB). From May 19 – 23, 2011, using an online methodology, PSB interviewed 1,000 Americans 18 years and older who embodied a nationally representative sample of U.S. general population. (Margin of error at 95 percent confidence level)
InfantSEE® is a public health program managed by Optometry Cares – The AOA Foundation. Designed to ensure that eye and vision care become an integral part of infant wellness and improve a child’s quality of life, doctors of optometry provide one-time, no-cost eye and vision assessment to infants between the ages of 6 and 12 months regardless of family income or access to insurance coverage. For more information, visit www.infantsee.org.