Background: Screening for amblyopia in early childhood is done in many countries to ensure that affected children are detected and treated within the critical period, and achieve a level of vision in their amblyopic eye that would be useful should they lose vision in their non-amblyopic eye later in life. We aimed to investigate the risk, causes, and outcomes of visual impairment attributable to loss of vision in the non-amblyopic eye.
Methods: For 24 months from July, 1997, national surveillance was done to identify all individuals in the UK with unilateral amblyopia (acuity worse than 6/12) who had newly acquired vision loss in the non-amblyopic eye, resulting in acuity of worse than 6/12 or visual-field restriction precluding driving. Information about participants was obtained at presentation and 1 year later. Participants were categorised as having socially significant visual impairment, or visual impairment, severe visual impairment, or blindness, in accordance with WHO taxonomy.
Findings: Of 370 eligible individuals, at presentation 104 (28%) had socially significant visual impairment, 180 (49%) visual impairment, and 86 (23%) severe visual impairment or blindness. The minimum risk of permanent visual impairment by age 95 years was 32.9 (95% CI 29.1-36.9) per 100,000 total population. The projected lifetime risk of vision loss for an individual with amblyopia was at least 1.2% (95% CI 1.1-1.4). Only 36 (35%) of 102 people previously in paid employment were able to continue.
Interpretation: In the UK, where screening for amblyopia is under review, risk of serious vision loss affecting the non-amblyopic eye and its results are greater than that previously assumed. Thus, in addition to the benefits of improved vision in the amblyopic eye, treatment of amblyopia during childhood is a potentially valuable strategy to prevent incapacitating vision loss later in life.