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Health Capsules: Aug. 9

By: Lisa Russell

Having young children’s vision examined before they start school this fall is important for their eye health as well as their academic success.

Focus on children’s eye health

With most area students returning to school later this month – which coincides with National Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month – the American Academy of Ophthalmology [AAO] has issued a reminder to parents to have their children’s eyes professionally examined. Although it is recommended that vision testing begin around age 3 or 4, the AAO estimates that about 80 percent of preschool-aged children have not received this critical exam.

According to the AAO, children’s developing vision is susceptible to many common problems, including refractive errors [nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism], amblyopia [lazy eye], strabismus [crossed eyes] and colorblindness, as well as injuries and infection. If diagnosed early, most of these conditions can be treated successfully and vision can be restored. If the condition is not diagnosed until later in life, however, treatment may not be as effective.

Untreated eye problems also can significantly impact children’s early learning. A child may struggle in school, have difficulty with reading or be perceived as less intelligent than he or she actually is.

In addition to obvious signs like crossed eyes, common indicators of early vision problems for parents and caregivers to be aware of include frequent eye-rubbing or squinting; tilting or turning the head to look at objects; difficulty paying attention to faraway objects; inability to distinguish colors; or lack of interest in reading. Well before the preschool years, signs of vision problems in infants may include not demonstrating eye contact in the first two months; not smiling or demonstrating awareness of their hands by three months; not reaching for toys at six months; or not recognizing faces by 11 months. Children who display any of these early symptoms should receive a comprehensive eye examination.

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Note: Protecting children’s eyes will be especially important later this month, during the Great American Solar Eclipse on Aug. 21. [West Newsmagazine covered area preparations for the eclipse, and safety precautions for viewing it, in the July 5 issue.]

The AAO states that only solar-viewing or eclipse glasses that meet the current international standard [ISO 12312-2] are safe for viewing the eclipse – these are available online as well as at a number of area retail stores.

Even if a child is wearing solar-viewing glasses, the AAO guidelines add, viewing the eclipse through a device that magnifies the sun’s rays – like a camera lens, binoculars or a telescope – also can result in serious eye damage if the device is not equipped with its own solar filter, as the sun actually can melt an unfiltered lens.


More evidence linking brain disease and football 

Since the deaths of several former National Football League [NFL] players who were later found to have chronic brain injuries, including Ken Stabler, Junior Seau and former broadcaster Frank Gifford, the sport has been under increasing scrutiny. A study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, based on football players whose brains were donated for research after their deaths, appears to add to the evidence linking brain injuries with America’s favorite sport.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy [CTE] is a progressive degenerative condition associated with repetitive head trauma. According to JAMA, CTE was found post-mortem in the brains of 110 of 111 NFL players studied. Overall, researchers examined the brains of 202 deceased former football players who had participated at different levels – including high school, college, semi-professional and professional play – and also compiled detailed histories including prior head trauma, athletic participation and military service.

Of those 202, CTE was diagnosed in 177 of the players, who had an average of 15 years of football participation. The severity of CTE was highest among those who played at the highest levels. The three former high school players had mild pathology, while a greater number of college players [56 percent], semi-professional players [56 percent] and professional players [86 percent] had severe pathology. Among those who were found to have severe CTE, a similar percentage of their family members reported that they displayed behavioral, mood and cognitive symptoms, along with signs of dementia.

The study was limited by the fact that it was based on a brain donation program, because public awareness of a possible link between football-related head trauma and CTE may have motivated the players’ families to participate. Although the authors urged caution in interpreting the high frequency of disease they found as a definitive link with CTE, their report concluded that “a high proportion [of players’ brains studied] had neuropathological evidence of CTE, suggesting that CTE may be related to prior participation in football.”


On the calendar

Conquer Your Knee Pain, a free seminar offering information about non-surgical and surgical options for knee pain and chronic stiffness, is offered from 6-7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 16 at Des Peres Hospital, 2315 Dougherty Ferry Road in St. Louis, in the MyNewSelf Education Room. The session is conducted by an orthopedic physician. To register, visit www.despereshospital.com or call (855) 290-9355.

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Babysitting 101, presented by St. Louis Children’s Hospital, is offered from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 19 at St. Louis Children’s Specialty Care Center, 13001 N. Outer Forty Road in Town & Country. This class provides a complete introduction to the basics of babysitting. Topics include the business of babysitting, child development, safety and first aid, and fun and games. A workbook and light snack are provided. Children of any age considering babysitting may intend. The course fee is $30 per child. To register, call (314) 454-5437.

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A free information session on non-surgical weight loss options is offered from 7:30-8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 23 at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital, Medical Office Building 3, 1020 N. Mason Road in Creve Coeur. A Washington University gastroenterologist will discussw FDA-approved alternatives for those struggling with weight loss. For more information and to register, visit www.barnesjewishwestcounty.org or call (314) 542-9378.

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