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Video game helping screen kids vision

December 2, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
According to the National Institutes of Health, one in 4 kids in the U.S. has some kind of vision problem. And undetected vision issues can make it tough for kids to learn, yet millions of children don't get a yearly vision screening. But now there is a cost effective and fun solution. There is now a video game that is designed to check kids' eyes. Eight-year-old Sasha thinks it is fun.

"It asks you questions, and you're supposed to answer them, and if there's a letter on the top, you have to match the letter on the bottom," said Sasha.

With every match, the adventure continues. Each step in the treasure hunt game called "Eye Spy" is part of a vision test, which changes depending on the child's age. The red and blue glasses allow each eye to be screened individually.

"By measuring response time in the right eye versus the left eye, it gives us information as to whether one eye is under performing or not," said Dr. James W. O'Neil, Arizona Pediatric Eye Specialists.

Pediatric Ophthalmologist Dr. O'Neil says many kids with vision problems can still pass a conventional eye test. He believes this game can make vision screenings more effective.

"We want to make them more reliable. We want to make them easier to administer. We want to reach more children," said Dr. O'Neil.

The test screens for everything from visual acuity and basic vision problems to lazy eye, retinal disorders and even cataracts.

Because it's automated, researchers believe this new test is more accurate and cost-effective than standard vision tests.

In a pilot project screening 600 kids at this elementary school, school nurse Lucy Samuels has seen some real success stories.

"The one that I was most impressed about, he looked up in the sky and he said, 'There's an airplane, and I have never seen an airplane.' It was so exciting when he got his glasses on," said Samuels.

Doctors estimate that the computer game test would cost about $5.00 per child. A non-profit organization called VisionQuest 20/20 hopes to distribute the eye screening game to schools nationwide.

Web Extra Information:

BACKGROUND:
Prevent Blindness America estimates more than 150 million Americans use glasses to correct refractive error problems like nearsightedness and farsightedness. Problems seeing, especially due to refractive error, often start in childhood. Estimates by VisionQuest 20/20, a research project of the Amblyopia Foundation of America, show 5 million elementary school children in the U.S. have vision problems. Eighty percent of school children aren't receiving annual vision screenings.

TYPES OF PROBLEMS:
Refractive errors are the most frequent eye problems in the United States. Myopia, or nearsightedness, and hyperopia, or farsightedness, are the most common types. Nearsighted people see near objects clearly but have trouble seeing distant objects. Farsightedness does the opposite to a person's eyesight. Other common vision problems include astigmatism, or uneven focus, and presbyopia, an age-related problem with focusing on near objects. Amblyopia, or "lazy eye," is a more serious vision problem that is the leading cause of single-eye blindness in the United States. Most vision errors can be corrected with glasses. Surgery is now an option for certain types of vision problems.

DETECTION:
The detection of eye problems is especially important in children since undetected problems can lead to long-term difficulties in school and social settings. Traditional screening methods are administered in doctor's offices and schools. A technique called photoscreening is especially suited to detecting amblyopia. It involves using a camera or video system to capture images detailed images of the eye. Since a child doesn't have to focus on a target like a chart, the test is easily administered. However, this technology is expensive, and results have to be sent in to be analyzed. If problems are detected after tests like this, the child is sent to an eye doctor for further testing.

A FUN METHOD:
A new eye test makes screening not only easy, but fun for kids. The computer game Eye Spy helps medical professionals pinpoint vision problems like refractive error and amblyopia. Children wear glasses with red and blue lenses while playing the game, which is a treasure hunt. The different-colored lenses ensure each eye is screened individually. Estimates show the game would cost about $5 per child. Professional eye exams can cost up to $75 per child.


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