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ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) -- While most parents take precautions to safeguard infants, many may be missing a crucial part of their children's health care. Some studies show that while families work hard to address their child's health care needs, only 13 percent of parents with children younger than 2 said their children had received an eye exam.
This month, a new no-cost health program called Infantsee was introduced nationally. The focus of the program, which is funded entirely by private entities and through volunteerism, is to provide all children 6 to 12 months of age with a free, one-time comprehensive eye exam, regardless of family income.
Optometrists such as Paul R. Gooch of St. George believe parents may not get eye exams for children because of misconceptions about early eye exams and because of a lack of information on the development of vision and eyesight in children.
According to Gooch, there's so much more to eye exams than asking patients to read eye charts.
Optometrists can ascertain much more by using a retinoscope and by using techniques to determine if a child's eyes are in focus and how they align and work together. Doctors also gage the overall health of the eye inside and out by looking at the structure of the retina, cornea, lens, iris, pupil and optic nerve.
Earlier this month, 9-month-old Kaylyn Munson sat quietly on her mother Emily's lap as Gooch gently applied drops to her eyes.
As the light from his retinoscope shone in her eyes, Kaylyn seemed unaffected by the exam. She cooed softly, giggled once or twice and looked curiously around the room at Gooch, his assistant and the medical equipment within the office.
"She's been to the doctor regularly -- she's had all of her immunizations -- she's been healthy," Emily Munson said. "I think its great that you can bring a child in to see if their eyes are progressing. You can tell some by the way they look at you, but you don't know exactly what they see unless you see an eye doctor."
Patients are often shocked when they learn how early eye exams should begin for children. But beginning eye exams early during the developmental period, Gooch said, is vital because waiting until adolescent or teen years may be too late to address potential problems and in some cases it may be nearly impossible to recover vision.
"You'll never be able to fix or get the vision back as if you had caught it when they were young," he said.
Problems such as amblyopia or "lazy eye," astigmatism, hyperopia or "farsightedness," myopia or "nearsightedness" and strabismus or "eye turn and crossing of the eyes," are best caught young.
According to information on the Infantsee Web site, significant risk factors to eye and vision disorders aren't usually detectable by base-level eye screenings, even when performed by a pediatrician. Optometrists focus on more definitive eye care.
While most public school systems throughout the country offer basic screenings, many risk factors may be missed in a general screening. At times these screenings may catch lazy eye or other potential problems.
"But if parents wait until they're in school to screen, again it may be too late to repair the problem," Gooch said.
The program is open to everyone, Gooch said. It does not require a means testing or operate on a sliding scale basis.
"This is not a charity program and it's not needs-based." he said. "Anybody can participate."
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)