New app screens vision problems in children

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Updated: 6/20/2014 3:51 pm
By Dr. Bruce Hensel

Millions of children are at risk for vision loss. But only a fraction receives proper screening because of their age. Now for the first time, there's a new high-tech way of diagnosing eye problems in kids as young as six months.

Dottie Trip dotes on her son Jack. He is the apple of her eye; but it's the 18-month old's eyes she most worried about. As a child, Dottie had a lazy eye, the most vision problem in children.

Dottie Tripp, Jack's Mom, "So I was very diligent with all these checkups asking when he could get tested when he could get screened."

But Jack is too young for conventional tests like the eye chart which is what most pediatricians use to screen their patients for vision problems. So his pediatrician, Dr. Suzy McNulty is trying something new, a smartphone app called Go Check Kids.

Suzy McNulty / Mia Bella Pediatrics, “You can actually just take a picture of the child's eyes and as early as six months of age pick up the same risk factors as you would with an eye chart.”

Such as nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism.

And unlike with an eye chart, the child doesn't have to know how to read and only has to sit still for a few seconds.

It works by using something similar to the red eye effect in photos. The camera flash passes into the eye through the pupil, reflects off the back of the eyeball and out again, allowing the camera to record detailed images of the inside of the child's eye.

Suzy McNulty / Mia Bella Pediatrics, "And on there you can actually see a crescent shape on either the left or the right side that gives us risk factors that are measured by ophthalmologists.”

Right now, an eye specialist must check the images. But soon the app will automatically detect potential problems, giving the pediatrician early warning that something may be wrong; and that can result in early treatment and prevention of childhood vision loss.

For Dottie, it's also providing some peace of mind.

Dottie Tripp / Jack's Mom, "Knowing that I'm doing something to help prevent that in him that's my job as his mom."

There are now several photo-screening apps available to doctors. And a recent study found that they are a reliable screening tool but it's only for the initial screening. An eye specialist must still officially diagnose and treat the problem.
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