Eye doctor conducts exams on infants

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 4, 2011

Smart Start Rowan
Most children have their first eye exam before entering kindergarten, but most critical stages of vision development occur within the first year of life, and problems can be treated, if caught early.
That’s why optometrist Dr. Melanie Denton, an associate with Dr. Tim Hennie, participates in the InfantSEE program, a screening program for infants ages 6 to 12 months.
In honor of the Week of the Young Child, Denton and Smart Start Rowan are collaborating to bring awareness to the importance of children’s vision. On Saturday, April 16, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Denton is conducting free eye and vision assessments at the optometry office, 1910 W. Jake Alexander Blvd.
Denton acknowledges that most children don’t have their eyes checked before the kindergarten screening.
Denton says that conducting an infant eye exam when a child is between 6 and 9 months of age checks for vision, eye movement and to ensure that the child’s eyes are healthy. When a baby is born, he or she can only focus a short distance, Denton said. Their vision gets better as they grow.
“It’s a learned skill they’re developing throughout childhood,” she says.
Although eye problems in infants are unusual, early screening helps detect these problems. For example, Denton says, 1 in 30 infants will develop amblyopia (“lazy eye”); 1 in 25 will develop strabismus (crossed eyes) and 1 in 33 will show significant refractive error (vision that requires correction with glasses or contacts). Eye cancer affects 1 in 20,000 infants. The sooner these problems are found, Denton says, the better the chance that the affected eye can be saved.
Of course, conducting an eye exam on an infant is not without its challenges, Denton said. “They can’t tell you what they see, so we do a lot of adaptation.”
Denton holds up two paddles. One is solid and one has black and white stripes. In using the paddles, Denton reveals the striped area slowly by holding the solid paddle on top, and watches how an infant’s eyes follow that area.
“We use a lot of toys,” she says. “It looks like we’re playing a game.”
But Denton is constantly watching how the infant’s eyes follow or track the movements of small finger puppets, for example.
Assessment, “really starts the moment you walk into the room,” she said.
She tests how infants react to a light shined in their eyes. She covers each eye and evaluates their separate movements. Evaluation is a good tool to help children before they reach school age.
“If you don’t develop good vision,” she said, “you can have major problems in school.”
Laura Villegas agreed. She is Smart Start’s Director of Programs and recently had her own child’s eyes examined by Denton.
“Most parents don’t realize or know they should take a child for an eye exam while they are young,” said Villegas, mom to Melana, 3. “Dr. Denton was absolutely fantastic. Melana was nervous, but Dr. Denton had a lot of fun games. She made it a fun experience for Melana’s first exam. I just felt like I had gotten the full care that I needed. It was a really positive experience.”
Denton said she enjoys working with her youngest patients.
“I think it’s fun,” she says. “I like the little ones. They can be a challenge.”
A native of Michigan, Denton joined Hennie’s practice Aug. 1. She’s a graduate of the University of Michigan and the Michigan College of Optometry. She completed residencies at the University of Miami and the Duke Eye Center.
Parents of infants ages 6 months to 1 year can call 704-633-2581 to schedule a free, 30-minute appointment.