Undiagnosed hyperopia linked to low literacy levels in young children

Undiagnosed hyperopia significantly affects literacy levels in preschool-age children

01 Feb 2016 by Olivia Wannan, Chris Somers

Children with undiagnosed hyperopia have significantly lower literacy levels than their peers, according to a new study.

Researchers in the US looked at the performance of children aged 4–5 years old in a standard test of early years literacy and compared these results with the outcomes of eye examinations.

They found that children whose eye examinations indicated untreated hyperopia performed significantly worse in the test than their normal-sighted peers.

Of the 492 children who participated in the study, those with hyperopia had particular difficulty with the print knowledge section of the test, which examined the children’s ability to identify letters and words.

When diagnosed in young children, moderate and high farsightedness can be easily corrected with spectacles. But researchers estimate that up to 14% of preschool-age children suffer from undiagnosed and untreated mild and moderate hyperopia.

Dr Marjean Taylor Kulp, who led the research, believes that undiagnosed vision problems in young children may affect learning in later life.

She said: “Prior studies have linked uncorrected hyperopia and reading ability in school-age children.”

She added that less was known about the effects of farsightedness on children aged four to five.

“This study was necessary to determine whether or not, at this age, there was a link between the two,” she said.

Last year, Freedom of Information requests by the College of Optometrists found less than a third of councils in England provided vision screening for children meeting the national guideline for all 4- and 5-year-olds to be tested by a trained professional.

Paper co-author, Professor Elise Ciner, told OT: “The benefits of early screenings would be to help identify children who may have vision problems that could impact on early learning and acquisition of reading-readiness skills, as well as cause secondary vision disorders. Moderate to high hyperopia in [young children] may also put these children at risk for amblyopia or strabismus.”

The Salus University researcher added: “An important goal for [childhood] vision screening is to be able to accurately detect all of the conditions, including moderate hyperopia, that can affect a child’s vision health and learning potential.”

Senior optometry lecturer at Cardiff University, Dr Maggie Woodhouse, said of the robust research: “It has the potential to be really important for optometrists if we find out correcting hypermetropia turns out to be successful but it’s left us hanging without the answer we really want to know.”

Dr Woodhouse added that the take-home message was: “Don’t be afraid to prescribe if anything is below the norm.

“Prescribing can’t do any harm and it may turn out in the long run that we’re benefitting these children, but we don’t have that evidence yet.”

Further research will now be carried out to determine whether correcting hyperopia with spectacles can prevent the observed deficits in early literacy skills.

The research was published in the journal Ophthalmology.


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