A child’s vision can change dramatically in a short period of time.
Such was the case for Tara Valeti.
At the age of 3, Tara had a complete eye exam showing normal vision. Her mom, Mrunalini Parvataneni (also known as Dr. P.), is a pediatric ophthalmologist with Northwest Eye Clinic and a board member of the Sight & Hearing Association. Fast-forward a year, when the Sight & Hearing Association screened Tara at her preschool. She failed her vision screening.
It turns out Tara was preamblyopic, nearsighted and had a significant astigmatism — all of which arose in one year.
Amblyopia, commonly called lazy eye, is a condition where there is strong vision in one eye and weak vision in the other. The brain learns to turn off vision to the weaker eye. In Tara’s case, she was 20/20 in her right eye, but 20/50 in her left.
Fortunately, because the problem was caught early, glasses are correcting the problem and the amblyopia has reversed, so there is no need to patch. Normally with amblyopia, a patch is used to cover the strong eye, forcing the weaker eye to work.
“This highlights the importance of screening,” said Dr. P. “Here I am a doctor. I had tested her vision. Within that year things had changed dramatically.”
Dr. P. is familiar with childhood eye conditions like amblyopia and strabismus, not only as an eye doctor, but because she was diagnosed with strabismus as a young child. Strabismus is a condition where the eyes are not properly aligned with each other. One or both eyes turn in, out, up or down.
Dr. P’s eyes crossed at the age of 2. By the time she was 7, she needed surgery to correct the problem.
Being nearsighted, she wore glasses, but outgrew them in her early teens. Today, she wears them for nearsightedness and astigmatism.
If left untreated, amblyopia can lead to strabismus or strabismus can lead to amblyopia. It is the most common childhood eye condition, but generally not detected except through an eye exam or thorough screening.
It also runs in families. Because of her family history — not only did Dr. P. have strabismus, but her brother had amblyopia — Dr. P. knew the likelihood that her children may inherit the condition.
She had already tested Tara’s brother, whose vision is normal. She intended to retest Tara before kindergarten, but the SHA screening beat her to it.
“Screens are designed to pick things up at ages when things change,” explained Dr. P. “If we would’ve waited any longer, her vision and the treatment would have been so much more complicated.”