LEWISTOWN - As the back-to-school list fills up with tasks like shopping for supplies and clothes, parents should also add a trip to the optometrist for a comprehensive eye exam.
In fact, according to the American Optometric Association, even parents with children younger than school age should get their kids checked every year, starting as early as 6 months.
To promote early eye screenings, the American Optometric Association developed the Infant See program, a comprehensive eye assessment for infants in the first year of life, offering early detection of potential eye and vision problems at no cost.
Sentinel photo by MATT STRICKER
Ryan, age 6 months, receives an eye exam Thursday from Wise Eyes optometrist Dr. Rod Beazer, left, while seated in the lap of his mother, Dr. Katherine Harvatine. The exam was conducted as part of the Infant See program, which seeks to assess vision needs at an early age.
"The Infant See Program is designed to increase public awareness of child and infant eye care and to promote the public to seek out that eye care," said Dr. Richard Burns, of Burns Eye Care Associates in Lewistown. "Optometrists join the program as volunteers and perform the screenings."
Burns and his brother, Robert Burns, have been offering Infant See screenings for four years now. The exam focuses on the physical health of the eye as well as the vision itself, Burns said.
According to the AOA, visual development is most dramatic between 6 and 12 months of age. Early detection can prevent and reduce the possibility of serious vision impairments that one in every 10 children are at risk of.
The biggest thing that optometrists are looking for during infant and early childhood exams is if the eyes are working together, said Dr. Roderick Beazer, of Harvatine Optometry Inc., in Burnham.
"We check to ensure that no one eye is turning in or out, which can normally lead to lazy eye," Beazer said. "We also check how well the infant's eyes can follow an object. If it's difficult, it may also be a sign of lazy eye."
The screening also includes a basic refractive error test, performed by shining a light into the infant's eyes, to determine any level of nearsightedness or farsightedness, said Dr. Katherine Harvatine, owner of Harvatine Optometry Inc. And if necessary, the infant's eyes will be dilated to examine the back of the eye, she said.
"Clearly, infants can't respond verbally about their vision so we pay close attention to the eyes themselves," Harvatine said. "For parents, it's reassuring to know that your baby's eyes are healthy, or, if there is a problem, to find it early and know how to treat it."
Harvatine joined the Infant See program last September to make sure families in the area had access to good childhood vision care, she said. Usually, an appointment of this kind would cost $59, she added.
"An Infant See exam before 12 months not only helps identify vision and ocular conditions that may need prompt treatment, but it also helps identify children who may need glasses down the road and should be watched more frequently," Harvatine said.
Of the children that don't have their eyes checked at an early age, Harvatine added, 2 to 3 percent wind up with an eye condition that doesn't allow them to see properly, even after corrective treatment.
An undiagnosed vision problem can also delay or cause problems with other forms of infant development such as mobility, Burns added.
For more information on the Infant See program, visit www.infantsee.org. Infant See appointments can be made by calling Burns Eye Care Associates at 248-4574 or Harvatine Optometry Inc. at 248-8103. Greater Vision Eye Associates, in Lewistown, also provides the Infant See program and can be reached at 248-5678.