Orthoptics is a profession allied to the eye care profession whose primary emphasis is the diagnosis and non-surgical management of strabismus (wandering eye), amblyopia (lazy eye) and eye movement disorders. The word orthoptics comes from the Greek words ὀρθός orthos, "straight" and ὀπτικός optikοs, "relating to sight" and much of the practice of orthoptists concerns refraction and muscular eye control. Orthoptists are trained professionals who specialize in orthoptic treatment. With specific training, in some countries orthoptists may be involved in monitoring of some forms of eye disease, such as glaucoma, cataract screening and diabetic retinopathy
Orthoptics has a long history in supporting ophthalmic care. French ophthalmologist Louis Emile Javal, began using ocular exercises to treat strabismus (wandering eye) and described the practice of orthoptics in his writings in the late 19th century. Mary Maddox pioneered the orthoptic profession and was the first documented orthoptist. She was trained by her father, Ernest E. Maddox, in response to increasing patient demand and time needed to examine and treat patients. Dr Ernest Maddox was a reputed ophthalmologist as well as the inventor of various instruments for investigating binocular vision. Mary Maddox started her own practice in London in the early 1920s and her first hospital clinic opened at the Royal Westminster Hospital in 1928. The first Australian hospital clinic with orthoptists was established at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne in 1931.
Current orthoptic practice
Orthoptists are mainly involved with diagnosing and managing patients with binocular vision disorders which relate to amblyopia, extraocular muscle balance such as with version, refractive errors, vergence, accommodation imbalances, (positive relative accommodation and negative relative accommodation). They work closely with ophthalmologists to ensure that patients with eye muscle disorders are offered a full range of treatment options. According to the International Orthoptic Association, professional orthoptic practice involves the following:
- Primary activities
- Secondary activities
- Further activities
- Specific outpatient waiting list initiatives to reduce the delay for children referred to the eye clinic (filter screening)
- Joint multidisciplinary children’s vision screening clinics (orthoptics/optometry)
- Organisation/prioritisation of the strabismus surgical admissions list according to agreed criteria
- Assistance with surgical procedures
Qualifications and training
In America, Students of orthoptics must attend 2 years of fellowship training. Presently, thirteen programs affiliated with medical facilities or universities in the US and Three in Canada offer an Orthoptic curriculum. In England, the orthoptic degree is a full time 3 years course (and 4 in Scotland) between classes and hospitals. Admission criteria vary from school to school, however; national regulations require completion of a baccalaureate degree prior to sitting for the national certifying exams. A personal interview is customarily part of the admissions process.
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