Getting glasses is a part of childhood for many kids, but some youngsters who have trouble seeing can’t remedy the issue by merely putting on a pair of glasses. That’s usually the case if they’ve been diagnosed with eye diseases that could impact them for the rest of their lives.

However, funding for research allows medical experts to make more significant progress in finding treatments or ways to manage those conditions. And, that reality was on the minds of those associated with the Knights Templar Eye Foundation (KTEF) when the foundation presented a $2 million gift to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) at that organization’s recent 122nd annual meeting.

Money Going Toward Worthy Efforts

The KTEF intends for the money to be used for setting up a permanent research fund that helps scientists find both treatments and preventative measures for common and rare eye diseases that affect kids.

More specifically, it’s likely that the AAO will use the money in part to expand its use of the IRIS (Intelligent Research in Sight) Registry. It’s the United States’ first comprehensive clinical registry for eye diseases, and the largest specialty clinical data registry. So far, it contains data from more than 166 million office visits and 41 million patients.

But, the focus of the IRIS so far has been adult patients and improving the quality of care for them. The KTEF hopes its funding will have a similar impact on pediatric patients. Research is one facet of the IRIS, but there’s also an educational component with content about the latest developments in pediatric ophthalmology. All ophthalmologist members of the AAO get access to IRIS for free.

A Lifelong Impact on Kids

Many parents may not realize how vision issues could be apparent in their children before those kids even go to elementary school. Statistics indicate that as many as ten percent of preschoolers have eyesight problems. Some of the common symptoms associated with those abnormalities include squinting and holding books excessively close to the face when reading.

Also, some issues cause irreversible vision loss if eye care professionals don’t intervene early. Research has shown, too, that some common eye problems affecting children make it more difficult for those kids to take school tests. The study looked at standardized test performance from kids with crossed eyes, as well as those diagnosed with Amblyopia, commonly referred to as “lazy eye.”

The results found that kids with those eye conditions required approximately 28 percent more time to complete 40-question standardized tests than kids that did not have those eye conditions. When children don’t succeed on par with their peers, they could experience low self-esteem and conclude that they aren’t able to show reasonable aptitude in the classroom.

It’s simple, then, to see the connection between healthy eyes and opportunities to thrive in life. The generous KTEF gift could have a tremendous effect on the livelihoods of children for years to come.

Childhood Eye Issues Affect Entire Families, Too

The nonprofit advocacy group Prevent Blindness carries out extensive studies about the effect of vision impairments on daily life. Some of the organization’s research reveals aspects that are often forgotten but important.

For example, one Prevent Blindness report about vision screenings and related nationwide shortcomings found that families bear 45 percent of the financial burdens associated with vision disorders, not including the expenses for diminished quality of life. The report also highlighted how children who have special needs or are from low-income households are less likely to get vision screenings than other demographic groups.

Those conclusions emphasize how essential it is for kids to have access to eye health professionals and see those experts as regularly, just as they do pediatricians. Otherwise, kids and their families could find themselves facing persistent disadvantages.

Long-Term Commitment to Eye Health

KTEF has been financially supporting initiatives related to eye health since the 1950s. Initially, the organization’s mission was to help people who faced sight loss due to urgent medical treatment and were unable to pay for those interventions themselves. However, in 2010, KTEF adopted a broader aim, along with the mission statement “to improve vision through research, education, and supporting access to care.”

Since its founding, KTEF has given more than $148 million to those areas outlined in the mission statement, in addition to giving in excess of $24 in research grants to scientists exploring pediatric ophthalmology and ophthalmic genetics.

Such organizations play vital roles in improving the lives of society members at large. It’s exciting to think about the meaningful ways the KTEF funds will allow pediatric eye care to prosper, both soon and during future generations.

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About Author

Kate Harveston covers social justice and human rights issues. She graduated with a Bachelors in English and minored in Criminal Justice, so she enjoys writing about anything related to the intersections of law, politics and culture. For more of her writing, you can visit her blog, Only Slightly Biased.

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