Highlighting the importance of children’s eye health this Retinoblastoma Awareness Week

This week we support Retinoblastoma (Rb) Awareness Week (8-14 May 2017), a time when we turn our attention to the rare eye cancer affecting the retina of children, predominantly under just six years of age.

Despite children’s health constantly being at the forefront of parents’ minds, new research from our long-standing charity partner, the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT) has alarmingly revealed¹ that two in three parents have never had their child’s eyes checked.

Retinoblastoma Awareness Week Vision Express

Vision Express CEO Jonathan Lawson pictured with CHECT ambassador Angharad Price at the start of the Vision Express Ride4Sight fundraising event. Angharad had her right eye removed at nine months old, after being diagnosed with Rb, and has gone on to study medicine at Barts Hospital, where her life was saved 18 years ago.

As CEO of one of the UK’s leading optical health companies, and poignantly a parent, I know all too well that healthy eyes are critical to childhood development.

But since mandatory routine eye tests were abolished in schools, it has become clear that more must be done to educate families on protecting children’s sight and the simple steps parents can take.

This year, in support of Retinoblastoma Awareness Week, we’ve teamed up with the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT), to do just that.

Five drop-in events are being held across the country, in locations identified for poor literacy rates, low uptake of eye tests and those at a higher risk of vision impairment due to economically deprived backgrounds. Together with CHECT, we hope to raise awareness of this condition and highlight the importance of regular eye tests for children.

As well as offering free comprehensive 30-minute sight checks for under-16s, the events are being co-hosted by brave Rb survivors and their families in the hope that by sharing their experiences more parents will recognise the impact early detection can have in Rb cases. Over the years I have been fortunate to meet some of these families, and their courage and resilience never ceases to amaze me.

Retinoblastoma is often unheard of by parents, yet 50 to 60 cases of Rb are diagnosed every year. While fortunately almost all of those diagnosed will beat the cancer, they may face having an eye removed or have lasting vision impairment issues.

One of the common symptoms to look out for is the appearance of a whitish reflection in the eye, like a “cats eye” caught in the light. It’s often noticed in photographs where flash photography has been used, and with the prevalence of smartphones this is a relatively easy way to look out for signs if you think something might be wrong.

The best advice I can offer to parents however, is to have their child’s eyes checked regularly.

It’s not possible to know if your child has good vision without an eye test and the NHS guidelines advise an eye test at least every two years. Children can be tested at any age, but before a child starts school and begins learning to read is about the best time.

Eyesight starts to develop from the moment a baby starts to focus on the world and eyes should be fully developed by age eight. During this time, vision plays an important role in their physical, cognitive, and social development, and experts estimate that around 80% of learning is through their eyes.

If left undetected for too long, some sight defects cannot be corrected. Children learn to adapt their behaviour to compensate for poor vision, and because they may not realise they have poor vision, it’s up to parents to pick up on the subtle signs, such as sitting too close to the TV or rubbing their eyes.

An eye test is easy and painless; even if a child can’t read there are tests that are carried out to check their vision and eye health from any age, and with opticians trained to make the eye test less daunting and child-friendly, the experience is nothing to fear.

Some parents may be put off by the cost of eye health, however the NHS provides free eye tests for under 16s, plus those aged up to 18 and in full time education, with under 16s also entitled to a contribution towards glasses on the NHS. But despite the crucial health check being free and subsidy on corrective eyewear, eye test rates among youngsters have been steadily declining over the past 10 years.

CHECT has also released new results from its latest survey, showing that two in three parents have never had their child’s eyes checked.

Together with CHECT we hope that our events this Retinoblastoma Awareness Week will shine a spotlight on these worrying statistics and encourage parents to get that vital first eye test booked in.

 

1 1,030 parents took part in the online survey, conducted by MMR Research Worldwide in May 2017. All parents had at least one child aged between 0-6 years.

 

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