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Sight unseen

Sight unseen
March 27, 2001

Don't be embarrassed if you've never heard of Orthoptics, you're not alone - but that's the whole point of an Awareness Week! Wendy Champagne takes a closer look.

Orthoptics is a health practice specialising in the diagnosis and non-surgical management of vision problems and disorders associated with eye movements(such as a squint). An 'orthoptist' is a university-trained practitioner who works as a member of an eye care team, often in conjunction with an ophthalmologist or a general practitioner.

"We're a small profession," says Val Tosswill, the Promotions and Development officer for the Orthoptics Association of Australia, " not many people know about us. But our skills are very valuable and we want to highlight their importance to the community."

Ms Tosswill currently works as an orthoptist with the Royal Far West Children's Health Scheme. Many rural children don't have easy access to eye specialists and if their eye problems remain undiagnosed it can result in permanent impairment.

"There are certain conditions that cause lasting damage if not picked up early enough," says Ms Tosswill. "If there is a turn in one eye, or the vision in that eye is not properly developing, blindness can result. Vision stops developing after the ages of eight or ten; so if you don't pick the problem up until they're teenagers, then there's nothing you can do about it."

A ten-year old boy from Western Victoria recently presented with below standard vision and Ms Tosswill's recognised the symptoms of reduced eye pigment. She was able to arrange for him to see an opthamologist and the boy received glasses for his poor vision and treatment to correct his underlying problem.

Orthoptists also work remedially with the blind, and stroke and whiplash patients both to optimise their existing vision and help them adjust to reduced vision. "Children with reduced vision can be helped at school and around the house," says Val Tosswill. "An orthoptist can really make a difference in their lives."

Hours spent in front of the computer also impact general eye health. Apparently the incidence of short-sightedness is increasing because we focus on our computer screens for longer and longer periods daily. An orthoptist is able to assess the state of your eyes and help with eye exercises or glasses where required.

"This year our target is "Vision for Life" says Val Tosswill. "And to achieve this we interact with schools, allied health professionals, GPs and speech pathologists to help manage patients with eye disorders and enhance visual performance."

Reprinted with permission from Editforce

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