Dismissing eye tests is a problem

All children aged under 16, and those aged under 19 and in full-time education, are entitled to a free eye test. But many parents don’t use the opportunity, or wait until children are older, and risk missing the opportunity to detect eye problems early.

Joy Felgate, chief executive of the Childhood Eye Cancer trust, says: “In our experience parents tend to wait to check their child’s eyesight. But we encourage parents to make sure their children have an eye test and a full check of their eye health, regularly starting from when they are young, in the same way as a dental check.”

 

Record low numbers for eye tests

NHS figures published in 2013 show only 19% of children had an eye test; a 10-year low. This is compared with 70% of children who had a free dental checks. A survey by the Childhood Cancer Trust in January 2014 found similar results: 76% of parents said they would take up the offer of a free eye test, but in practice only 26% of them had done so.

“Going to an optician has around a 100% success rate in getting the right referral in place quickly, this can make a huge difference to children with eye diseases," Felgate explains.

An eye test at a high street optician can detect the signs of eye diseases including retinoblastoma, a rare type of cancer of the retina that affects children under five. The retina is the light-sensitive lining at the back of the eye. Retinoblastoma causes the cells of the retina to grow rapidly and out of control.

An optician can refer children with suspected retinoblastoma to an eye specialist for further tests and emergency investigation, and treatment if this needed.

“Going to an optician has around a 100% success rate in getting the right referral in place quickly, this can make a huge difference to children with eye diseases," Felgate explains.

“Retinoblastoma is very treatable and the survival rate is 98% in the UK because of how early we are able to diagnose children. It’s not guaranteed that outcomes are always better if diagnosed early - but sight can be prolonged. Early detection offers the best chance of saving sight and lives.”