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Published on February 12, 2013

Pediatricians use electronic vision screener to test eyes of infants, toddlers

COLUMBIA, Mo. - University of Missouri Children's Hospital pediatricians are using a new electronic vision screening system to test the eyes of children too young for a traditional vision test.

The PlusoptiX S09 vision screener is located at the University Physicians-Green Meadows pediatrics clinic. It is funded by $4,100 in donations raised during the 2012 MU Children Hospital Radiothon, which raised a total of approximately $240,000.

"Before the availability of this vision screener, pediatricians didn't have a way to test the vision of a child who couldn't perform a standard vision test," said Joy Drass, MD, a general pediatrician at Children's Hospital and medical director of the University Physicians-Green Meadows pediatrics clinic. "During a well-child checkup, we physically examine the child's eyes to look for significant problems, but it can be very difficult to detect subtle eye or vision problems with an active child who's squirming around and can't tell you he's having trouble seeing."

The new vision screener is used for children ages 6 months to 3 years old who can't take other vision tests, such as reading or identifying images from an eye chart. To perform the exam, a nurse points a special camera at the patient's eyes from three feet away in a dimly light exam room while a parent holds his or her child. Within one second of capturing an image, a computer uses precise measurements of the child's eyes to look for eye conditions and vision problems, including:

  • Amblyopia, a delayed connection between the eye and brain
  • Anisocoria, a difference in pupil size between the eyes, which can be a sign of certain neurologic conditions
  • Astigmatism, an irregular shape of the cornea, which can cause blurred vision
  • Corneal-reflex problems
  • Myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness) and anisometropia (an extreme difference in vision between the two eyes)
  • Strabismus, a misalignment of the eyes, often called "lazy eye"

Medical research has shown that up to 25 percent of preschool-age children suffer from some type of common visual problem, such as nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism, said Tara Missoi, MD, a pediatric ophthalmologist at University of Missouri Health Care's Mason Eye Institute. She said that an electronic vision screener is helpful for young children because they often can't tell their parents that they are having trouble seeing, or they may not even know their blurred vision is abnormal.

"Vision screening in young children is critically important," Missoi said. "For a child's vision to develop normally, the brain needs to receive clean, focused images from the eyes. The sooner you can diagnose and treat any eye conditions - from a simple need for glasses to more complex problems - the more likely that child's eyesight will develop properly."

Certain eye conditions such as amblyopia, which affects approximately 5 percent of children, can be treated easily or even prevented if caught early. If not caught until after age 7, however, amblyopia can cause permanent damage to a child's vision.