The eyes of the future

The challenge of keeping children’s vision in mind during a pandemic

building blocks

A wide number of activities large and small have been put on hold over the last 12 months. Holidays, sporting events, weddings, christenings, family gatherings, to name but a few.

During this period, education facilities for children of all ages from pre-school to higher education have shut for large periods of time. Since March 2020, I have regularly read stories in the press about the long-term impact that the closure of schools could have on children. Last month the Education Policy Institute even suggested that certain pupils should have the right to repeat a year of school, if their parents or carers agree.

With this in mind, we should not forget that when the doors of these institutions shut, a range of services that are offered alongside them outside of the classroom have not been performed either.

One service that has not been carried out is children’s vision screening. And when services cannot be performed, a backlog inevitably occurs.

This week the Clinical Council for Eye Health Commissioning (CCEHC) released a series of recommendations aimed at tackling the backlog that has occurred over the last year.

In these recommendations, the CCEHC suggested that parents of children who started their reception year in 2019 or 2020 and missed out on vision screening should take their child for an NHS sight test, if the resumption of the local vision screening programme is not imminent.

Practitioners will of course be aware of much research that has been performed over the years into the impact that vision can have on a child’s education when problems go undetected.

A condition that has become increasingly prevalent in recent years is myopia. In an OT piece published just a few days ago, optometrist and clinical research fellow for Johnson & Johnson Vision’s Myopia Control Platform, Noel Brennan, described myopia as “the biggest eye health threat of the 21st century.”

When talking to OT about the contact lens company’s new recommendations for the assessment and treatment of myopia in children, Mr Brennan highlighted: “As eye care professionals, we have been concerned for the eye health of children and the trajectory of myopia on a global level, and COVID-19 has only increased our concern.”

He explained that as a result, Johnson & Johnson Vision has created a new myopia management guide in order to address the rising rates of myopia globally.

If you would like to learn more about the importance of managing myopia in practice, you can also watch OT’s recent video, produced in partnership in CooperVision. In the video, eight practitioners, including Keith Tempany, Bhavin Shah, Dr Valarie Jerome and Dr Nicola Logan, discuss the benefits of being involved in the myopia control community.

Finally, I would like to share a personal experience. Having become a first-time mum in April 2020, just weeks into the first lockdown, my hospital experience, and that with health visitors that has followed, has been quite different from what would have been offered pre-COVID.

While there were no visitors on the ward during my stay, the hospital did not falter on the care offered. Prior to being discharged to meet my partner at the hospital doors, I was pleasantly surprised to be visited by an audiologist who tested my son’s hearing. Furthermore, during his three- and nine-month check-ups (via video calls), I have been asked if I have any concerns about his hearing. I have also been advised that now he has teeth, I should book his first dentist appointment. Yet 10 months on, his sight has not been mentioned once. So I ask: does more still need to be done to raise awareness of the importance of regular sight tests for children from a young age?  

Share your thoughts in the comments section below or via email.