Immunizations and visits to the pediatrician are a well-known part of an infant’s first year. But what about a visit to the eye doctor?
InfantSEE, a public health program from the American Optometric Association and the Vision Care Institute of Johnson & Johnson, offers infants ages 6 to 12 months a one-time, no-cost comprehensive eye exam. Some 400 optometrists in Illinois participate in the program, which launched earlier this year.
"Pediatricians in America are great at giving well-baby care, but ... they spend very little time on the eye," says Dr. Pamela Lowe, Chicago optometrist and member of the national InfantSEE committee. "They’re looking for the big things ... but some things such as amblyopia [lazy eye] are harder to pick up on."
And these kinds of subtle vision conditions in children are not uncommon. According to the InfantSEE Web site, one in 25 children will develop strabismus (turning of the eye) and one in 30 will develop lazy eye.
Lowe explains that 6 to 12 months is an ideal time to check eyes since a child’s focusing ability is similar to how it will be as an adult. Assessment at that age can identify risk factors and early detection leads to early—and more successful—treatment.
I recently brought my son, Lucas, for an InfantSEE exam with optometrist Dr. Steve Butzon of DuPage Optical in Villa Park. While Lucas obviously could not read traditional eye charts, his exam focused on the same three areas as an adult’s: overall eye health, any need for glasses and whether or not his eyes are working together.
I held Lucas on my lap as the doctor shined lights in his eyes, looked at them through lenses and held out various objects for him to grab. The exam lasted about 10 minutes and involved minimal fussing. Lucas came out with a clean bill of visual health and a recommendation for a follow-up in 12 to 24 months.
Dr. Janice Lasky Zeid and Dr. Marilyn B. Mets, ophthalmologists at Children’s Memorial Hospital, agree that early eye exams are important for treatment and prevention. However, they stress that the one-time InfantSEE exam should not be considered a replacement for screenings done by the child’s primary care physician since eye conditions can show up any time during early childhood.
For more information on InfantSEE or to find a participating optometrist, visit www.infantsee.org.