Many Belait students unaware of poor eyesight

National 2 minutes, 18 seconds


MORE frequent eye screening for students is needed after Brunei's first eyesight study examining students from Kuala Belait revealed that the majority of students with refractive errors were not aware of their problem.

One of the study's authors, Optometrist at Suri Seri Begawan Hospital (SSBH) Patrick On told The Brunei Times recently that only 40 of the 177 students referred to SSBH's eye clinic from 2009 to 2011 were aware of their refractive errors.

“Refractive errors or ametropia are when the shape of your eye does not bend light correctly, resulting in blurred images,” said Patrick, who noted that short-sightedness, long-sightedness and astigmatism as the most widely seen errors.

He pointed out that refractive errors – one of the leading causes of visual impairment in children worldwide – can be corrected if detected early.

“Severe short-sightedness combined with astigmatism can lead to development of more serious eye problems like macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma,” he said.

In the most serious of cases, a condition called amblyopia can develop, potentially causing irreversible vision loss if not detected and treated early.

Wearing spectacles, he said, is the simplest, safest way to correct the errors, although contact lenses are also an option. Much less common is to undergo surgery to change the shape of the cornea permanently.

Patrick added that uncorrected errors could also negatively effect a student's performance in school, possibly leading to teachers, who are unaware of the students’ condition to falsely accuse them of “laziness or indifference towards their studies”.

“Screening in school and pre-school ages should continually be carried out periodically. Equally important is to educate the students and parents on making sure they wear their spectacles and continue coming for follow-ups,” he said.

The refractive errors were recorded in 177 of the 8,623 students screened, corresponding to 2.05 of Kuala Belait’s student population. Those screened were from ages five to 17, and came from 24 government and 10 private schools.

Short-sightedness with astigmatism was the most prevalent error and more commonly found among ethnic Chinese students, followed by those of Malay and Iban descent.

Second was short-sightedness, with the affected ethnicities similar to the pattern seen in short-sighted astigmatism.

Patrick said a rate of 2.05 per cent of refractive errors was lower than students in other countries, but said students in Brunei were not exempt from the increasing visual demands seen in today's society.

“Prolonged hours of near work, tuitions after school and doing more visually demanding activities on the computer, whether recreational or for work all contribute.

“Screening is very important with this growing visual demands, and ensures students are not left out academically and socially, and can enjoy a high quality of life,” he added.

SSBH’s Department of Ophthalmology carried out the study with its counterparts from Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleh Hospital.

The Brunei Times