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Children born prematurely at risk for visual problems

Children who were born prematurely are more likely to have visual problems at 10 years of age than children who were born at full term.

Eye and neurological problems are common in premature infants, but little is known about the effects of prematurity on visual acuity, the sharpness or clarity of vision.

A study evaluated both prematurely born and full-term children at the age of 10 years to determine the effects on visual acuity of prematurity alone, of retinopathy of prematurity ( ROP, a disorder of the blood vessels of the retina that is common in premature babies ) and of cryotherapy ( the standard treatment for ROP ).

Eva K. Larsson, of the Uppsala University Hospital, in Sweden, and colleagues compared the visual acuity for distance and near vision of 10-year-old children born either prematurely or full term in Stockholm County, Sweden between 1988 and 1990.

Of the 216 prematurely born children, 131 had no retinopathy of prematurity at birth. Of the remaining preterm children with mild to severe retinopathy of prematurity, 25 were treated with cryotherapy.

Prematurely born children had reduced distance and near visual acuities compared with full-term children, even when children who had retinopathy and neurological disorders were excluded, the researchers report.

Children who had been treated with cryotherapy had the highest risk of reduced visual acuity. Two percent of the preterm children were visually impaired by the World Health Organization criteria and 5.3 percent had a visual acuity below 20/60 in either eye.

" Although we found an overall good visual outcome in the prematurely born cohort, the risk of reduced visual acuity was greater than in full-term children," the authors conclude. " Children who had been treated with cryotherapy had the highest risk, but prematurity per se was also associated with reduced visual acuity."

Source: Archives of Ophthalmology, 2005