Keratoconus eye disease tests for Wellington kids a world first

Ciara Moriarty, pupil at St Catherine's College, Wellington, has her eyes scanned with a pentacam as part of world-first ...

Ciara Moriarty, pupil at St Catherine's College, Wellington, has her eyes scanned with a pentacam as part of world-first study of the eye disease Keratoconus

In a world first, high school children in the Wellington region are having their eyes tested for keratoconus, a degenerative and potentially serious eye disease.

Study co-ordinator Janet Paget said the free tests had already discovered one child with keratoconus at Mana College and several suspect cases, suggesting as many as one in 50 children could have the disease. Children who need glasses or suffer from other eye diseases are also being picked up.

Pager said little was known about the prevalence of Keratoconus, which was often only detected later in life when it was more difficult to correct.

"In the worst case scenario they can go blind," she said.

"We are expecting to pick up at least one kid per school, possibly more."

The research is being conducted by the charity Capital Vision Research Trust which, with funding from the Lions Club, crammed a mobile eye clinic into the back of van.

Paget said they are hoping to visit every secondary school in the Wellington region over the following 12 months, providing free eye tests for all Year 9 and 11 students. Some schools had already turned down their offer, however.

"They are just not interested, although I don't know why anyone would turn down free eye tests."

On Thursday, the van was at St Catherine's College in Kilbirnie in Wellington, where student Ciara Moriarty, 15, was tested just before lunch.

The year 11 student said she had had glasses when she was younger but ditched them after her eyes improved. But her left eye had since deteriorated again and she probably needed glasses.

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"I just wanted to see whether I have this disease. It's better to know."

St Catherine's principal Mary Curran said it was a "win-win" having the research conducted at the school, with students receiving a thorough eye exam.

"As long as it's not interfering with their learning, why wouldn't you?"


Keratoconus is a progressive eye disease, which causes the cornea - which is needed to focus light back on to the eye's retina, to distort, becoming cone-shaped and thin.

It is difficult to detect because, without measuring the cornea thickness, many symptoms are similar to other eye diseases, including halos around lights, headache from straining the eyes, and generally deteriorating vision.

If picked up early it can be corrected with glasses but if undetected can eventually cause blindness and require a cornea transplants.

 - Stuff


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