Children in Republic more likely to suffer ‘lazy eye’ than in North

Study links disparity to socioeconomic disadvantage and poor compliance

Vision screening among children entering school in the Republic is less comprehensive than in the North. Photograph: iStock

Vision screening among children entering school in the Republic is less comprehensive than in the North. Photograph: iStock

 

Children in the Republic are four times more likely to suffer from a “lazy eye” beyond the traditional treatment period compared with children in Northern Ireland, a new study shows.

The authors link the disparity to socioeconomic disadvantage and poor compliance with the wearing of spectacles in the Republic.

Vision screening among children entering school in the Republic is less comprehensive than in the North, free eye care is not as accessible and there are long waiting lists, the study published in BMJ Open journal points out.

“While most children in the Republic with visible eye defects such as strabismus [turn in one eye] were treated, children without obvious visible eye defects were less likely to access eye care, resulting in missed opportunities for intervention where necessary,” according to co-author Siofra Harrington of Technological University Dublin.

Amblyopia (lazy eye) is a relatively common, treatable vision deficit that affects up to 5 per cent of the population. Treatment needs to be completed before the age of eight as after this the eyes and brain become too mature to change. If not treated in time, it can lead to a lifelong visual impairment.

The prevalence of lazy eye beyond the normal treatment age was found to be 4.5 per cent in the Republic, compared with just 1 per cent in the North.

In both the Republic and Northern Ireland, screening programmes to detect reduced vision are carried out at age four to five, allowing lazy eye to be detected when treatment is still possible. However, in the Republic more than 2,300 children are waiting more than 18 months for an appointment with an ophthalmologist.