Eye Center, Inc.
Main Office • 2003 Cortez Road West • Bradenton, FL Three convenient locations to serve you! 941.756.2020


Digital Eye Strain

Digital Eye Strain

Many of us in 2017 spend a tremendous amount of time interacting with digital devices like smartphones, tablets, and computer screens on a day-to-day basis.  

Digital eye strain is a real medical issue that affects millions of Americans. According to a 2014 report by Dr. Scott Sikes writing for Optometry Times, “approximately 28 percent of people spend 10 or more hours in front of digital devices daily. The number only goes up from there, as approximately 65 percent spend between three to nine hours per day in front of a digital device. In 2011, Internet usage alone was up to 2.2 billion users compared to just three million users in 1990, only twenty years earlier.”

The Vision Council has data showing that Americans report experiencing the following symptoms of digital eye strain:

  • 32.6 percent report experiencing eye strain
  • 22.7 percent report experiencing dry eyes
  • 21.4 percent report experiencing headache
  • 22 percent report experiencing blurred vision
  • 30.8 percent report experiencing neck and shoulder pain

Digital eye strain unfortunately affects our older patients in a more pronounced way.  As we age, our eyes become drier and lose their ability to focus as well as in earlier years, and the impact of blue light is amplified. That blue light emitted by digital device, over time,, causes the most harmful long-term effects on our eyesight. 

Redness and dryness (due to decreased blinking), blurry vision and headaches from screen glare and blue light emissions, and even neck/back pain from poor posture are all symptoms of digital eye strain caused by 2+ hours of daily device use.  If you’re experiencing any of these, it may be time to talk to your Eye Center, Inc. optometrist.

D – EYE – Y

There are also some tricks you can try at home or work to avoid digital eye strain.

Blink often.  It sounds silly that we have to be reminded to blink.  But when we’re scrolling through News Feeds, sometimes our brain ignores the eye’s innate trigger to blink and moisten our eyes.  Remind yourself to blink every time you hit that “like” button.  You can also try artificial tears, which are helpful for treating the symptom, but fail to address the cause of dryness.

We also love the 20×4 rule.  Screens should be at least 20 inches from your face, and every 20 minutes of use, take a 20 second break to stare at something 20 feet away.  This will relieve strain on your eyes and also helps to combat general fatigue.   

Your friends may tease you at first, but increasing the font size on your devices can help reduce eye strain as well. You’ll have the last word when you’re experiencing fewer headaches.

If you tend to use your computer in the evenings, you can install a blue light filter on your PC or Mac that helps reduce some of the light emitted.  At night time, blue light’s effect is amplified and can lead to difficulty sleeping.

Adjust your screen light or your room lighting so there isn’t as much contrast between a bright screen and dim room, for example.  You’ll find that you have less trouble with glare over time.


Let’s break down the reasons why the blue light that our beloved devices emit is harmful to our eyesight.  Our perma-patient, Ashley, recently chatted with Dr. Paige Gillenwaters-Laudicina who helped us make sense of all the science.

A:  All this blue light talk is making my head spin.  Can you explain exactly what the sources of blue light are?

PGL: You encounter blue light in almost every daily activity. Fluorescent lighting in your office, each and every electronic screen you see (phones, tablets, computers, TVs, etc.), and even the sun emits damaging high-energy blue light.

A:  How does blue light harm our eyes?

PGL:  Blue light causes the gradual deterioration of the macula over your lifetime, leaving our eyes susceptible to macular degeneration.  

A:  Ok… so what is macular degeneration?  

PGL:  The progressive deterioration of the macula and is the leading cause of visual impairment. This loss of vision affects reading, writing, driving, color perception, and other cognitive functions… and serious complications can lead to blindness.

P:  But what exactly is the macula?

PGL:  The macula in the human eye is the point where light is focused, through the cornea & lens.  This is what takes the picture that is sent to the brain, where vision is processed.  

A:  Sounds important.

PGL:  Yes, the macula provides us with the ability to read and see in great detail (whereas the rest of the retina provides peripheral vision). The high degree of sophisticated structure in the macula is one of the things that separate man from other beings on earth.  It’s VERY important to the structure of the macula to be undisturbed, and relatively dry, in order for images you see to be clear and your vision to be good.

A:  I’m in front of a computer 9 hours a day… and it feels like the other 15 hours are spent on my phone!  What should I do?

PGL:  Well, definitely start with the tips we discussed above that slow blue light’s effect on your macula.  And be sure to ask me or another Eye Center, Inc. optometrist about BluTech Lenses.  


In scientific terms, the BluTech Lenses that Dr. Laudicina mentioned earlier filter high-energy blue and ultra-violet light using ocular lens pigment derived from the auto-oxidation of 3- Hydroxykynurenine (3-OHKyn). The ocular lens pigment is then combined with melanin and isolated in a durable material. When used in an optical lens, this infusion of pigment provides the same protection, contrast enhancement, and color perception to the eye as the natural yellow-brown coloration of the human crystalline lens.  

And now in real talk, BluTech Lenses create a barrier for the macula by directly infusing the perfect amount of ocular lens pigment and melanin into the lenses.  This allows for optimal eye protection – without altering or distorting color perception.  Your eyes are shielded from the dangers of UV rays and the harmful high-energy blue lights we’re discussing today.  

Our practice recommends BluTech Lenses especially for those who work at a computer throughout most of the day, or tend to spend a significant proportion of time during non-daylight hours on a phone or tablet.   The benefits of these products beyond protection against UV and blue light are improved natural depth, color perception, visual acuity, night vision, contrast and a reduction in glare.

If you are experiencing severe symptoms that could be related to digital eye strain, it’s important that you call us today at (941) 756-2020 and schedule an appointment with any of our six optometrists at the Eye Center, Inc. We offer three convenient optometry offices and optical centers in the Manatee County area.


Check out this great infographic from AllAboutVision.com:

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Back to School Vision Basics

Back to School Vision Basics


At the Eye Center, we believe that good vision is essential to a child’s academic success, and feel strongly that each child should have their eyes routinely evaluated with a comprehensive eye exam. Decreased vision can interfere with a child’s ability to see the board clearly at school, or to read or do their homework for prolonged periods of time. Often a child will cope by avoiding these activities, unaware that their vision is holding them back. Also, it’s difficult for most children to vocalize a vision problem, as most don’t understand they could be seeing more clearly or more comfortably.

With the school year now in full swing, it is possible for a child to begin facing challenges with their vision, so let’s take this opportunity to define some common vision conditions and suggest possible signs and symptoms to watch for.

Myopia, or nearsightedness, is probably the easiest to detect. As the name implies, someone who is nearsighted sees well up close, but has trouble with their distance vision. You may suspect someone is nearsighted if they squint in order to see distance objects (for example; the board at school, especially when sitting in the back of the classroom). Recent studies reveal approximately 10% of school aged children are myopic. Myopia tends to worsen as a child grows, so an annual trip to the optometrist is necessary, along with prescription changes when needed.

In contrast, someone who is hyperopic, or farsighted, sees distance objects quite well but complains of trouble up close. In my experience, these symptoms can be more subtle for patients. Someone who is farsighted may have the ability to read things up close, but experiences fatigue, eyestrain, or headaches after a prolonged period of time. If a child frequently comes home from school with a headache or with tired eyes, a comprehensive eye exam is warranted.

Astigmatism is a term that is commonly used and poorly understood. Astigmatism refers to the shape of the front portion (the cornea) of the eye. In an ideal world, the cornea would be completely round, and light would hit each part of the cornea and focus perfectly on the retina. When you have astigmatism, the cornea has an atypical shape, creating multiple points of focus on the back of the eye, and a blurred image for the viewer. Depending on the amount of astigmatism a person has, symptoms may vary from mild strain and headaches to very blurred vision at both distance and near.

Each of these conditions is easily detected during an eye exam, and can be corrected by glasses or contact lenses. Some prescriptions may require full time wear, while others only part time.

One last point of mention is, it is important to differentiate a vision screening like the ones performed at the pediatrician’s office or at school, from a comprehensive eye exam done at an optometrist’s office. Screenings typically only measure acuity, or your child’s ability to resolve detail. A comprehensive eye exam will go into much more detail, measuring refractive error (the need for glasses), eye alignment and binocular vision (how comfortab

ly the two eyes work together), and color vision, along with a full ocular health evaluation encompassing the front and back of the eye (seen with dilation).

In summary, I recommend adding a comprehensive eye exam to your back to school checklist, to ensure your child’s eyes are ready to take on the visual demands of another school year. Set your child up for success!

This article originally appeared in Next-Gen Magazine’s October-November issue on pg 86-87.

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The ABCDE’s of Back to School

The ABCDE’s of Back to School

Since in September, we’re all settling into a routine once again, we thought it important to share some Back-to-School themed reminders for your eye health, especially for those younger sets of eyes!  Even if you don’t have little ones at home, now is a great time to schedule your comprehensive eye exam before the holiday hustle begins.

Activities – kids these days are involved in more after-school and weekend activities than ever before.  Especially for outdoor sports, eye safety is crucial for developing eyes and the use of sunglasses cannot be understated.

Breakfast – the most important meal of the day for developing minds.  Starting the day with a nutritious breakfast helps kids stay focused throughout the day.

Communicate – talk to your children about their day, but also ask pointed questions about their health and wellness.  This will teach children how to listen to their bodies from a young age so important issues don’t go undetected.

Dates – Create an easily-updated family calendar. We love Google Calendar because it syncs automatically across multiple devices and sends reminders however you wish to receive them.

Eye Exam –  Even if there are no complaints over the summer about blurry vision or headaches, children still need to have frequent eye exams. Just like their bodies are rapidly growing, children’s eyes are changing as well.  

For proper education, children need the following skills related to eyesight:

  • Near vision
  • Distance vision
  • Binocular (two eyes) coordination
  • Eye movement skills
  • Focusing skills
  • Peripheral awareness
  • Hand-eye coordination

Nearsightedness is the most common condition for children, and  can worsen rapidly, especially between the ages of 11 and 13.  This means that an eye prescription can change dramatically over a short period of time. Never fear, mom. Changing eyesight is not a reason for worry, and vision tends to stabilize in the later teenage years and early twenties. During the growing years, it is important to make regular eye appointments with your child’s eye doctor. Making comprehensive eye exams a part of your back-to-school tradition guarantees that your children’s eyes are examined at least once every year. These exams also mean that you have the opportunity to obtain updated prescriptions, ask questions of your eye doctor, and get recommendations for when to schedule the next exam.

Comprehensive eye exams can also detect other eye conditions besides nearsightedness. Some children may have good distance vision but may struggle when reading up close. This is known as hyperopia or farsightedness. Other eye issues such as strabismus (misaligned  eyes), astigmatism or amblyopia (lazy eye) are also detectable through an eye exam. For some eye conditions, vision can be permanently affected if the problem is not corrected. Regular exams mean earlier diagnosis and earlier treatment.

Another reason for a back-to-school comprehensive eye exam:  learning challenges.  Have you been told your child has a learning problem or trouble paying attention? That might be a misdiagnosis. Watch this Youtube video by CBS’s Dr. Max Gomez, where he reports the real problem might be your child’s eyes, even if they have 20-20 vision. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ciptj3OSMEE)

At Eye Center, Inc., we are proud to be your entire family’s eye care provider.  

Schedule yearly, comprehensive eye exams

A comprehensive eye exam from an eye doctor is one of the best investments you can make in your child’s education and overall well-being. Not only will an eye exam make sure your kids can read their devices comfortably, it will make sure their eyes are healthy. Through the Pediatric Essential Health Benefit in the Affordable Care Act, parents can take advantage of yearly comprehensive eye exams for children ages 18 and younger.  

And don’t be misled by thinking the screening that your school, or even your pediatrician may offer is complete. Many school screenings test only for distance visual acuity, but a child who can see 20/20 can still have a vision problem. Research from the American Optometric Association (AOA) American Eye-Q® Survey shows that 89 percent of parents mistakenly believe that vision screenings are an effective way to detect vision problems in infants and children.

The 20-20-20 Rule

To give the eyes a break, the AOA recommends the 20-20-20 rule: when using technology or doing near work, take a 20-second break, every 20 minutes and view something 20 feet away.

Comprehensive eye exams performed by an eye doctor are the only way to accurately assess eye health, diagnose an eye disorder or disease, and determine the need for glasses or contact lenses. To schedule your appointment, call Eye Center, Inc. at (941) 756-2020 today to schedule your appointment at one of our three convenient optometry offices in the Manatee County area!

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Staring at the Sun: Do’s and Don’ts for Experiencing the Solar Eclipse

Staring at the Sun: Do’s and Don’ts for Experiencing the Solar Eclipse

Do’s and Don’ts for Experiencing the Solar Eclipse in Bradenton, FL

At the Eye Center, Inc. we completely understand that many of our patients would like to witness this once-in-a-lifetime total eclipse.   Especially for young students, a solar eclipse offers a unique opportunity to witness basic principles of science and mathematics in action, so it’s an important teaching tool for young minds who might be encouraged to pursue STEM education as a result of experiencing an eclipse.

As your eye doctors, we encourage you to SAFELY watch the solar eclipse, but it is our responsibility to make you aware of the real risks associated with viewing this phenomenon, and offer you some safety suggestions.  

It’s important to know that the risks are real.  Researchers who documented solar eclipses in 1966, 1979, and most recently in 1999 recorded dozens of cases of eclipse-related eye injuries.  These injuries were caused by not wearing proper eye protection.  In one case, 52 injuries were reported and within six months, only half of those eyes were restored to 20/20 vision.  Most notably (and perhaps not surprisingly…), “males under age 20 were more likely to sustain eclipse-related eye injuries and that the patients were aware of the dangers of unprotected viewing of the eclipse but chose not to comply with warning messages.”

We hope you’ll find these Do’s and Don’ts useful on Monday, August 21, 2017 as North America witnesses this amazing astronomical phenomenon.

    1. Don’t stare directly at the sun without proper protection.

This is pretty basic advice that your mama would echo, but it’s the most important. If you don’t have *approved* solar eclipse glasses, do not look directly at the partially-eclipsed sun.  And folks, unless you’re traveling to a part of the map in the path of totality (when the moon will 100% cover the face of the sun), here in the Bradenton, FL area, we’re not going to see totality at any point.  So according to the experts at NASA, since we’re outside the path of totality, “you must always use a safe solar filter to view the sun directly.”  

If you purchased solar glasses in advance, make sure your frames have the ISO 12312-2 marking on the side which means they meet safe sun exposure standards.

2.  Don’t use unapproved filters to view the solar eclipses

We’ve heard that in Manatee County, solar eclipse glasses are now sold out, and it’s probably too late to order online so if you missed out, don’t try to wing it.  We strongly advise against the use of:  photographic film of any kind, sunglasses, food wrappers, smoked glass, space blankets (whatever those are).. Oh, and if your grandfather still has his solar glasses from 1979, inspect them extremely carefully.  Any signs of damage, scuffing or scratches, and these should be tossed out.

3.  Do DIY it

The most effective way to safely view the eclipse without approved glassware is to create a pinhole projector.  This is an easy project that will just take a minute, and a great way to get children engaged in the process and excited about the eclipse.

To create a pinhole projector, simply use a thumbtack to poke a hole or multiple holes in a sheet of paper to form an image of the sun on a nearby surface.  More detailed instructions are available here.

You can also use a small mirror to project an image of the sun onto a wall in a shaded room.  

4.  Don’t assume you’re fine if you don’t “feel” differently right away

Even if your eyes don’t hurt immediately following a direct gaze at the sun, there still could be damage.  Often we might not see signs of blurred vision or retinal scarring for a few days.  Those of you who are already at risk for retinal damage (and you know who you are!) or who have had LASIK or other retina-related procedures should take absolutely every safety precaution.

5.  Don’t miss the eclipse!

Be sure to follow our precautionary advice to ensure safe viewing of the eclipse.  While we love seeing our patients every day, the last thing we want to do is treat some of you later in the week who present with blurry sight… and it turns out that your retina was burnt!  

That being said, we try not to be “fun sponges,” so your doctors at the Eye Center, Inc. do encourage you to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience!  We can’t wait to hear what you thought of the 2017 solar eclipse.

About the Eye Center, Inc. 

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Eye Center Inc.'s Vision Foundation Helps Fund Turning Points Free Eye Clinic

Eye Center Inc.'s Vision Foundation Helps Fund Turning Points Free Eye Clinic

Turning Points recently installed a new Eye Clinic in the Free One Stop Clinic at the Bill Galvano One Stop Center located at 701 17th Ave West in Bradenton.

The Eye Clinic now offers optometry and ophthalmology services and is another extension of the many specialty services that are offered at the One Stop Clinic. The Clinic offers primary care services to qualified Manatee County residents every weekday, along with limited on-site blood tests, and Hepatitis C treatment. These specialty services are also being offered: Audiology, Cardiology, Dermatology, ENT, Gastroenterology, Gynecology, Nephrology, Pharmacy, Podiatry, and Pulmonology.

A complete and thorough eye examination will be offered to One Stop Clinic primary care patients who fail the general eye exam during their primary care visit. The Eye Clinic examination will include and facilitate testing for cataracts, glaucoma, retinal diseases (from diabetes or other causes), treating minor eye injuries, determining prescriptions, measuring existing prescription glasses, writing prescriptions for new glasses, determining systemic diseases, prescribing medications and referring patients for special tests, surgeries and laser treatments. Photos of the retina and optic nerves will be taken to compare for future exams or to send out to specialists. Prescriptions for glasses can be filled at the Eye Center through the Eye Center Inc. Vision Foundation.

“The goal of the Eye Clinic is to prevent blindness amongst our patients and to restore vision”, reports Dr. Linda Christman, MD. The installation of the Eye Clinic was spearheaded by Dr. Christman with major funding granted by the Mary Parker Foundation along with Dr. Mackie and the Eye Center Inc.’s Vision Foundation with equipment donated by the Eye Associates. Collaborations and partnerships include Dr. Allarakhia, the Eye Center, the Eye Associates, Blessings International and Cares America.

The volunteer optometrists and ophthalmologists have already started treating and referring patients for cataracts, glaucoma, blindness, and vision issues pertaining to Diabetes. The volunteers include Dr. Christman, Dr. Caravella, and Dr. Barja. However, more volunteer optometrists, ophthalmologists and assistants are needed. Funding is also needed for ongoing purchases of supplies. The whole team of staff and volunteers at Turning Points are proud to now offer this service to the community.

About Turning Points

Turning Points and our Bill Galvano One Stop Center partners provide a remarkable variety of services designed to assist individuals and families on their path to financial stability and independence. Turning Points is the one stop shop for preventing and ending homelessness in our community. We provide day resource services (such as hot showers, laundry services, clothing, food), employment services, rental and utility assistance, veteran’s services (employment, housing and childcare), and free medical and dental care for the uninsured and underinsured. 10,827 people received help last year with critical services targeted to the essential needs of people in crisis. Turning Points can only provide this high standard of service because of our caring, compassionate volunteers and strong community support.

About the Vision Foundation

Eye Center Inc.’s Vision Foundation was officially created in 2013, and is a nonprofit organization committed to providing eye care and glasses to underprivileged children. Its purpose is exclusively charitable. Through the Vision Foundation, and with the direction and guidance of the Manatee County school nurses, we will be able to provide MORE free eye exams and MORE free pairs of glasses to the Manatee County students in need.

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Dr. Paige Participates in Cheers for Charity Fundraiser

Dr. Paige Participates in Cheers for Charity Fundraiser

Cheers for Charity

No need to drive south to enjoy the Florida Keys. Hundreds gathered at 3 Keys Brewery & Eatery for the third annual Cheers for Charity Summer in the Keys guest bartending fundraiser.

Cheers for Charity is a Women’s Giving Circle composed of young professional women in Manasota who raise funds for local charities. The ladies of the giving circle were the bartenders for the evening. Funds are raised through tips, raffle ticket sales and a portion of food and beverage sales.

Party-goers arrived in their best summer luau gear for a night of fantastic raffle prizes, photo-booth antics, delicious food and drinks and fun music provided by DJ David Flanary. Bartenders Amanda Tullidge, Janel Shinn, Nadine Baez, Jill Gass, Annie Breitinger, Erin VanderVeen, Erin Boihem, Alexis Georgiou, Margi Dawson, Christy Cardillo, Michelle Cross, Erika Lisch, Stephanie Hodges, Sarah Crittenden, Sierra Butler, Bianca Martorella, Shari Phillips, Olivia Horne, Jamie Heater, Brigid Driskill, Marisa Powers, [Eye Center, Inc’s] Dr. Paige Gillenwaters-Laudicina and Amy Morris served beer after beer as the tip jars quickly filled.
“We are so grateful to this community for the incredible support they give us each year. Every year our group grow in numbers and the event grows in attendance,” said Annie Breitinger.

Spotted were Jonathan Fleece, Jill McGarry, Peter Acker, Brian Johnson, Laura Johnson, [Eye Center, Inc’s] Dr. Brad Laudicina, Joey and Jodie Kerns, Jennifer Jaso, Tammara Purdin, Alex Breitinger, Amanda Broadway, Ani Mena, Cassy Timmons, Joseph Calinski, Heather Roembke, Anne Chapman, Fred Moore, Kelly Fox, Steve Peebles, Tracey Vita, Andrew Chapman, Mike and Stacey Gilkison, Richard Bardwell, Caroline Fox and Justin Powers.

“Cheers for Charity was thrilled by the turnout and support of the community that made it our largest fundraiser yet!” said Amanda Tullidge. “We are so excited we raised over $3,000 tonight and will be presenting a check to the four incredible non profits we chose to support this year. Visible Men Academy, The Mark Wandall Foundation, Vintage Paws Sanctuary, Inc. and Family Network on Disabilities are all amazing organizations and we are honored to be supporting them.“

The Cheers for Charity Women’s Giving Circle is organized under the auspices of the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund. Women’s giving circles are a unique way for women to pool their time and resources for a charitable purpose.

This article originally appeared in the Herald-Tribune, August 6, 2017

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Dr. Paige Participates in We Care Manatee's Purple Reign

Dr. Paige Participates in We Care Manatee's Purple Reign

If you were a fan of Prince, there was only one place to be recently – the Purple Reign event, held at Renaissance on 9th in Bradenton and benefiting We Care Manatee.
Seen at the event were [Eye Center, Inc.’s] Dr. Paige Gillenwaters-Laudicina, Kimberly H. Hopper, Jennie Slater, Marie Pender, Jill McGarry, Jackie Woods, Jackie Wilson, Wendy Passman, Carol Rice, Debbie Gigliotti, Valerie Vale, Brandy Hamilton, Victoria Kasdan, Debbie Partridge, Robyn Faucy, C.J. Bannister, Margi Dawson, Karen DeSimone and Key Fitch, among many others.

Guests, dressed in all shades of purple (including bright neon-purple wigs sported by Key 2 Life’s Pink Powerhouse Divas), perused a variety of silent auction items before sitting down for the program and lunch.

Event Planning Chair Tricia McKay Powers welcomed guests, noting that We Care Manatee fills a huge need in the community, “providing quality healthcare, regardless of a person’s ability to pay.“

We Care Manatee provides free, quality medical care and referral services to low-income, uninsured and under-insured adult residents of Manatee County. Indeed, last year We Care Manatee, with the help of 83 volunteer physicians, treated 678 patients who received nearly $500,000 in health care services.

Victoria Kasdan, executive director of We Care Manatee, noted that this is the first year of what hopefully will become an annual event. I think you will agree, she said, that “we are putting the fun in fundraiser today”.

After lunch, and a short video on Prince’s career, guests enjoyed a high-energy fashion show by Macy’s, with models Caitlin Williams, Dawn Allen, Diana Rutland, Diane Lehman, Kayley Alsina, Mary Jo Hixon-Cohen, Sarah Berry and Veronica Thames dancing down the runway to some of Prince’s biggest hits.

This article originally appeared in the Herald-Tribune, June 11, 2017. {Herald-Tribune photo of Dr. Laudicina and Marisa Powers by Wendy Dewhurst Clark}

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Vision Foundation helps local students

Vision Foundation helps local students

Each year, students in kindergarten, first, third and sixth grade get their eyesight checked during state-mandated vision screenings in Florida.

The in-school screenings, which usually take place in the fall, help uncover vision problems before they get worse and begin affecting students academically.

But a report released by the Florida Department of Health reveals that a large number of students who were found to have vision problems in Sarasota and Manatee counties do not get help.

In Sarasota County, nearly half of the 627 students who failed their vision screening are sitting in class without needed glasses or with outdated prescriptions, according to the report. In Manatee County, more than 75 percent of the roughly 800 students who failed the screening are in the same predicament. The report, which covers the period from July 2016 to March 2017, accounts only for kids in the four grades screened, and students who weren’t absent on the screening day.

For many students, the repercussions of untreated vision problems are reflected in school report cards. When the school year started last fall, intensive reading teacher Brenda Zofrea noticed that one of her students — a bright, well-behaved eighth-grader at Booker Middle School — wasn’t doing her work. The student had glasses, but her prescription was old and the earliest appointment her mother could book through her insurance was in February, nearly five months away.

“She was a smart girl, but she was just totally held back because she couldn’t see,” Zofrea said. “By February, you’ve pretty much lost the year.”

National issue

It is a national problem, says Robert Slavin, professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education.

Slavin was part of a research team that conducted a three-year pilot study on the relationship between vision and reading scores in Baltimore schools. Researchers saw marked improvement in scores for students who were provided needed glasses.

“You have kids failing in school every single day because of this very simple and easily resolved problem,” Slavin said.

Zofrea understood her student’s pain all too well. She had bad eyesight herself as a child, but she was too shy to ask for a seat closer to the chalkboard, and didn’t get glasses until she hit college. She grew up thinking that neon road signs were supposed to look fuzzy, and that math was not her strong suit.

“To this day I don’t have a good foundation in math because I couldn’t see well and missed out on what was going on at the elementary level,” she recalls.

Zofrea, who teaches intensive reading to middle school students who are behind in school, tried to find a way to help her student, but it was complicated.

When Zofrea transferred to a different school in January, the student was still wearing the same outdated pair of glasses.

Seeing solutions

In Florida, two state-funded programs — Florida Heiken Children’s Vision Program and Florida’s Vision Quest — help with getting glasses for kids who fail vision screenings. But those programs only serve students who are uninsured.

Sarasota County schools also have access to a Student Emergency Fund overseen by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. The funds can be used by administrators and counselors to pay for items, like glasses, that are considered a one-time need for eliminating a barrier to learning.

The fund has paid for six pairs of eyeglasses this year. As the program has grown, in many cases the administrators may not be aware that the money is available, said John Annis, senior vice president of community investment at the foundation.

Typically, when students fail a vision screening, letters are sent home and the school tries to follow up with parents at least three times, but numerous things need to happen after a child fails that initial screening, said Bradenton-based optometrist Dr. Sarah Mackie.

Mackie founded the Eye Center Vision Foundation, a nonprofit that provides vouchers for free eye exams and glasses for students in Manatee County. She said more than 80 students have used the vouchers this year, but that many more have been distributed.

“A lot of those kids are just not getting in,” Mackie said. “I think the biggest issue for parents is transportation and getting time off from work to bring kids to the exams and then return to pick up the glasses.”

In Baltimore, the solution was to bring the process into the schools. Slavin and his colleagues partnered with the city’s health department, the school system and nonprofits to create Vision for Baltimore.

The program brings mobile eye clinics outfitted for on-site services to the city’s schools. Kids are examined and pick out their frames on the bus. In a couple of weeks, the glasses are delivered to the school — usually two pairs, one for school and one for home, because, Slavin notes, kids are kids and it’s not rare for them to lose their first pair. Medicaid pays for a portion of the glasses and the rest is funded through philanthropic support.

The project also switched over to universal screenings that looked at all students in pre-k through eighth grade. Universal screenings are critical, said Collins. Many states only mandate screenings for students in certain grade levels, but that usually leaves a big gap of students whose problems can go undetected for years.

“A part of what we’re trying to do is convince schools that eyeglasses are not just a health issue,” Slavin said. “They’re part of reading programs and math programs — eyeglasses are one of the things you can do to make sure kids are successful.”

This article originally appeared in the Herald-Tribune on May 27, 2017.

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