Study Finds Hispanic- and African-American Preschoolers Need Better Vision Screening

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Like many 10 year-old Hispanic-American boys in Los Angeles, Rogelio plays a lot of soccer. He also excels in school. But Rogelio's life would be very different today if his mother, Concepcion, hadn't discovered when he was a preschooler that he had a serious eye disorder called amblyopia and then made sure he received treatment.

A recent report says that Hispanic- and African-American children are at higher risk for amblyopia and so need earlier and more thorough vision screening than kids from other ethnic groups. The Multi-Ethnic Pediatric Eye Disease Study (MEPEDS) was conducted in Los Angeles over the last 10 years.

Amblyopia, also called "lazy eye," causes one eye to become weaker than the other over time. If not treated early in life, amblyopia can result in permanent vision problems that can negatively impact a child's ability to learn and enjoy life. Young children's vision problems often go undetected until they start kindergarten. Preschoolers may be unaware that they're not seeing as well as they could, or they can't describe vision problems to their parents. That was true for Rogelio and his mom.

"Though Rogelio often told us he had a headache, we didn't know he had an eye condition until I took him to the MEPEDS clinic," says Concepcion. "Then we found out that he had astigmatism and amblyopia and needed to be seen by a specialist. "

Astigmatism is often a factor in amblyopia. So if a preschooler has astigmatism, he or she should be carefully followed by an eye care specialist and, if amblyopia is suspected, should see an Eye M.D. (ophthalmologist) for follow up and any needed treatment. MEPEDS researchers found that, in kids between the ages of 6 months and 6 years, 17 percent of Hispanics and 12.7 percent of African-Americans had astigmatism. Rates for white kids in other studies were about 6 percent.

Although only some kids who have astigmatism as babies or preschoolers will also develop amblyopia, all Hispanic- and African-American kids need to be screened and followed early in life because of their higher risks, the MEPEDS researchers say. This is an important message for parents, doctors, and others who provide care for young children.      

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