Purpose: The objective of this study was to summarize available data regarding pediatric blinding diseases worldwide and to present the most up-to-date information on childhood blindness in the United States.
Methods: We obtained data from a complete search of the world literature and from direct contact with each of the schools for the blind in the United States.
Results: Five percent of worldwide blindness involves children younger than 15 years of age; in developing countries 50% of the population is in this age group. By World Health Organization criteria, there are 1.5 million children worldwide who are blind: 1.0 million in Asia, 0.3 million in Africa, 0.1 million in Latin America, and 0.1 million in the rest of the world. There are marked differences in the causes of pediatric blindness in different regions, apparently based on socioeconomic factors. In developing countries, 30% to 72% of such blindness is avoidable, 9% to 58% is preventable, and 14% to 31% is treatable. The leading cause is corneal opacification caused by a combination of measles, xerophthalmia, and the use of traditional eye medicine. There is no national registry of the blind in the United States, and most of the schools for the blind do not keep data regarding the cause of blindness in their students. From those schools that do have this information, the top 3 causes are cortical visual impairment, retinopathy of prematurity, and optic nerve hypoplasia. There has been a significant increase in both cortical vision loss and retinopathy of prematurity in the past 10 years.
Conclusions: There are marked regional differences in the prevalence and causes of pediatric blindness, apparently based on socioeconomic factors that limit prevention and treatment schemes. In the United States the 3 leading causes of pediatric blindness are cortical visual impairment, retinopathy of prematurity, and optic nerve hypoplasia. There is a need for more complete and more uniform data based on the established World Health Organization reporting format.