If you ever visit the office of Dr. Charles Allen, optometrist at Princeton Eyecare Associates on Ewing Street, he will offer you some surprising statistics. “In this country,” he says, “approximately 70 percent of children, before they start school, will have been to a dentist, whereas only 14 percent have been to an eye doctor.”
Dr. Allen, who has been seeing patients of all ages in his Princeton office since 1962, finds this a disturbing trend. Parents, he says, don’t realize that vision problems in children go beyond nearsightedness and contribute to learning difficulties. More commonly, he explains, “children have problems with binocular vision — the ability to effectively and efficiently use both eyes together at the same time, at the same place.”
Especially for young children, focusing both eyes on a particular spot is not as easy as it sounds. “I’d love to someday meet the moron who said the eye is like a camera,” he jokes. There are seven muscles for each eye — one to focus the eye and six to turn the eye –– that must be synchronized, and children gradually develop functionality in these muscles. These should all be operational as early as age 6 months and certainly no later than age 24 months.
The parents are under the misconception that whatever procedures are done in the child’s pediatric office serve as an alternative to having a comprehensive examination, Dr. Allen says. He suggests that children have eye exams at ages 1, 3, and 5 to correspond with the developmental stages they go through.
Such early attention to children’s eyes can prevent future problems, and it won’t break the bank. Dr. Allen devotes one Wednesday per month to InfantSEE, a program that offers free eye exams for infants from age six months to one year (www.infantsee.org). It is a program under the joint sponsorship of the American Optometric Association and Johnson & Johnson in which participating optometrists volunteer to perform these examinations at no cost to the parents.
Additionally, improving a child’s binocular vision involves no costly prescriptions; rather, Dr. Allen explains, “you direct the parent as to what sorts of activities and games can be played with the child in order to stimulate the proper development of these muscles.”
Children aren’t the only ones who receive comprehensive eye exams from Dr. Allen. In his practice he has also served as an investigator for many manufacturers of contact lenses and solutions, and he notes that “we’ve never had to tell a person that your prescription cannot be made in a contact lens.” This feat is impressive, especially considering another startling statistic: each year 2.5 to 3 million of the roughly 35 million contact lens wearers in the United States discontinue using them, either because they were uncomfortable or their vision was still imperfect or they were not comfortable and their vision was not good.
With the development of new lens materials and solutions, however, more people than ever before can have contact lenses that work for them. This includes specially made lenses for those who have had unsuccessful laser eye surgery, lenses worn at night that reshape the cornea, and many other specialty lenses, all available through Dr. Allen. The lenses worn while sleeping reshape the cornea, similar to Lasik surgery, and when removed in the morning the patient can have functional vision throughout the day. This procedure goes by different names but the one most popular is orthokeratology; Cornea Reshaping Therapy.
Just last week, in fact, a 40-year-old woman who had never been able to see well or comfortably through contact lenses came in from Ohio. After three thorough appointments with Dr. Allen she has finally received a type of lens that works. You don’t have to be an adult to wear contacts, though: Dr. Allen has fitted patients as young as six days old for contacts.
“For those who thought they could never wear contact lenses for whatever reason, they should explore them,” Dr. Allen says, “because being able to see the world around them without a certain amount of encumbrance of the plastic frame and being able to see the environment with nothing in front of their eyes is a real eye opener.” As one patient said when they awoke in the morning having worn overnight lenses, “It’s as if I was born again with normal vision.”
Dr. Charles Allen, Princeton Eyecare Associates, 601 Ewing Street, Suite A-15, Princeton Professional Park, Princeton. 609-924-3567, fax 609-924-2852.