July 18, 2004.
By Danielle Teutsch,
Some Australian children are being prescribed glasses unnecessarily for long-sightedness, experts say.
Professor Paul Mitchell, director of the Centre for Vision Research at the Westmead Millennium Institute and the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Sydney, said he discovered a number of children wearing glasses for no good reason during an examination of more than 1500 six-year-olds in Sydney.
Data on myopia and other aspects of eyesight health is being collected in a two-year study, due to be published later this year.
Professor Mitchell said there was "no doubt" that some optometrists prescribed glasses for children who would normally grow out of mild hyperopia (long-sightedness).
"Some optometrists go over the top, though in most cases they are reasonably responsible," he said.
Professor Mitchell said he did not expect the amount of overprescribing in Australia would be as high as suggested in a recent US study, which found as many as 5 per cent of children referred on for comprehensive vision exams were prescribed glasses they did not need.
The article, published online in the latest Journal Of The American Association Of Pediatric Ophthalmology And Strabismus, was based on a screening program of more than 100,000 preschoolers.
Of more than 3600 children who were referred for follow-ups because of suspected disorders, such as amblyopia (lazy eye), about one-quarter were found to have no eye problems.
Yet nearly one in five of these children was prescribed glasses.
When examined by a pediatric ophthalmologist, only a handful of those children were given spectacles.
Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists pediatric committee member Dr Frank Martin said if a child did not show symptoms such as constant headaches and blurry vision for long-sightedness, they should not be prescribed glasses.
"Long-sightedness is quite normal as a child. Almost all children have low-grade long-sightedness, which they grow out of at about age 8-10," he said.
"My approach is, if they don't have any symptoms, don't give them glasses."
Dr Martin, who is also head of the Ophthalmology Department at the Children's Hospital at Westmead, said giving glasses unnecessarily to a child would not cause them any harm.
Optometrists Association Australia spokesman Robert Hilkes criticised the US study, saying that the parameters were restricted to looking at whether a child had amblyopia. "Under their criteria, a child could be legally blind and still not need prescription spectacles," he said.
Optometrists considered a range of factors when prescribing glasses, including whether the child could do normal activities such as read a book or look at the blackboard comfortably. "It's a quality of life issue," he said.
Dr Martin said the routine screening of preschoolers funded by the NSW Government could help reduce any prescription errors.
Routine screening would also help pick up potentially serious cases of amblyopia, a problem that could lead to legal blindness if left untreated.
Copyright © 2004. The Sydney Morning Herald.
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