Purpose: To assess the prevalence of refractive errors and vision impairment in school-age children in a suburban area (La Florida) of Santiago, Chile.
Methods: Random selection of geographically defined clusters was used to identify a representative sample of children 5 to 15 years of age. Children in the 26 selected clusters were enumerated through a door-to-door survey and invited to report to a community health clinic for examination. Visual acuity measurements, cycloplegic retinoscopy, cycloplegic autorefraction, ocular motility evaluation, and examination of the external eye, anterior segment, media, and fundus were done from April through August 1998. Independent replicate examinations of all children with reduced vision and a sample of those with normal vision were done for quality assurance monitoring in six clusters.
Results: A total of 6,998 children from 3,830 households were enumerated, and 5,303 children (75.8%) were examined. The prevalence of uncorrected, presenting, and best visual acuity 0.50 (20/40) or worse in at least one eye was 15.8%, 14.7%, and 7.4%, respectively; 3.3% had best visual acuity 0.50 or worse in both eyes. Refractive error was the cause in 56.3% of the 1,285 eyes with reduced vision, amblyopia in 6.5%, other causes in 4.3%, with unexplained causes in the remaining 32.9%. Myopia -0.50 diopter or less in either eye was present in 3.4% of 5-year-old children, increasing to 19.4% in males and 14.7% in females by age 15. Over this same age range, hyperopia 2.00 diopters or greater decreased from 22.7% to 7.1% in males and from 26.3% to 8.9% in females. Females had a significantly higher risk of hyperopia than males.
Conclusions: Refractive error, associated primarily with myopia, is a major cause of reduced vision in school-age children in La Florida. More than 7% of children could benefit from the provision of proper spectacles. Efforts are needed to make existing programs that provide free spectacles for school children more effective. Further studies are needed to determine whether the upward trend in myopia continues far beyond 15 years of age.