Child sight loss on increase, says Blind Children UK

Premature baby's foot Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Very premature babies may be born with vision problems

Increasing numbers of British children are being registered as blind or partially sighted, say campaigners.

Blind Children UK says much of the rise is down to more very premature babies surviving, with one in 20 of these now likely to be born blind.

It estimates the number of babies born with sight difficulties as a result of being premature has risen 22% over the past decade to more than 1,800 a year.

It says delays in diagnosis are leaving children unnecessarily impaired.

Blind Children UK is aiming to raise awareness of the warning signs that parents should watch for.

The organisation highlights signs such as red or cloudy eyes and babies or children reacting badly to bright light, and says parents should seek medical help if they are evident.

To evaluate the extent of sight problems, the charity looked at data from NHS England, the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish government, the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Trusts and the Office for National Statistics.

It found that since 2006, there had been a 9% rise in the number of children registered blind or partially sighted.

The biggest increase has been among those aged under five, according to the charity formerly known as the National Blind Children's Society.

Some signs of sight problems in children:

  • Red, inflamed, watery or cloudy eyes
  • Excessive rubbing or poking of the eyes
  • Puffy or swollen eyelids
  • Moving or "wobbling" eyes
  • Unusual posture when looking at something
  • Bright light causing discomfort

Source: Blind Children UK

'Affects development'

The earlier children are born the greater the risk they will have a visual impairment.

The survey of 130 parents of children with sight problems found a quarter said that they had to wait longer than a year to have their child diagnosed.

Half of those questioned said the delay they experienced in diagnosis had had a "negative" effect.

Richard Leaman, chief executive of Blind Children UK, said: "Every day a child with sight loss goes without support, it dramatically affects their development.

"As much as 80% of a sighted child's learning takes place using vision. Without this, it's impossible for a young boy or girl to develop fully and make sense of the world around them.

"We help children and their families tackle all the challenges of sight loss, so that they can enjoy their childhood and fully realise their potential as adults."

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