Overview of Common Vision Impairments Among Children

Three types of vision problems in children are discussed in a summary of eye studies in the "Published Examination-based Prevalence of Major Eye Disorders"

Summary by Allison Martin

This is based on a review of studies from the Published Examination-based Prevalence of Major Eye Disorders, JUNE 22, 2018 Prepared by: Michelle Dougherty, John Wittenborn, Emily Phillips, NORC at the University of Chicago. Statistics for three types of eye problems are referenced in this study which can affect children. These are Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), Diabetic Retinopathy and Refractive Errors.

A 2008 study summarized in the article estimated the prevalence of Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) among babies in the general population to be 0.12%. However, among small babies born premature it occurs at a much higher percent. In this high risk situation, the likelihood was reported to be 64-68%, in three different studies. This was among babies weighing 1251 grams or less. The odds were higher for African American children than Caucasian, and subsequently found to be higher among the Hispanic population. However, prevalence was equal between girls and boys. ROP was more common among lower birth weight and younger gestational age, not surprisingly. One study determined that while the age and birth weight of babies enrolled in the studies has decreased over time, the rate of ROP has remained steady.

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when high blood sugar damages the blood vessels of the retina. It is much more common among adults, but children who have diabetes are more predisposed to this diagnosis over time.

Refractive error is the most common visual problem among children. There are three different type of refractive errors that occur among children: myopia (near sighted), hyperopia (far sighted), and astigmatism (irregularly curved lens). Children with myopia have difficulty seeing far away; children with hyperopia have difficulty seeing close up. Astigmatism often occurs with these. Refractive error can often be treated with eye glasses, contact lenses or surgery. If it is undiagnosed or untreated it is called uncorrected refractive error. The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atheroslerosis found that among over 6,000 people examined 4.6% were actually visually impaired by this. They concluded that visual impairment (defined as visual acuity worse in the better eye of 20/50 that could be corrected to 20/40) was primarily due to this among younger people. Another study (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) found uncorrected and undercorrected refractive error more common among children aged 12-19 years old, compared to adults. URE was more common among the Mexican and Hispanic population. This problem with either lack of correction or under correction was shown dramatically by the Los Angeles Mobile Eye Clinic, where 8% of first graders were found to have decreased visual acuity due to uncorrected refractive error. In this case it was more prevalent in boys and among Latino and African American children. Lastly, the Multi-Ethnic Pediatric Eye Disease Study of young children 30-72 months old found that a high percentage of Visual Impairment in all races was due to uncorrected refractive error or amblyopia due to refractive error.

Published Examination-based Prevalence of Major Eye Disorders, JUNE 22, 2018 Prepared by: Michelle Dougherty, John Wittenborn, Emily Phillips, NORC at the University of Chicago www.norc.org/PDFs/VEHSS/EyeConditionExamLiteratureReviewVEHSS.pdf

Allison Martin, MPA is a biologist and web designer.