Purpose: To describe the distribution of visual acuity and causes of visual loss in a representative sample of Australian schoolchildren.
Design: Population-based cross-sectional study.
Participants: One thousand seven hundred thirty-eight predominantly 6-year old children examined during 2003 to 2004.
Methods: Logarithm of the minimum angle of resolution (logMAR) visual acuity was measured in both eyes before and after pinhole correction and with spectacles if worn. Cycloplegic autorefraction (cyclopentolate) and detailed dilated fundus examination were performed.
Main outcome measures: Visual impairment was defined as any (visual acuity <20/40; <40 letters) or severe (visual acuity < or =20/200; 0-5 letters) for both better and worse eyes. Myopia was defined as spherical equivalent (SE) refraction < or =-0.50 diopters (D), and hyperopia as SE refraction > or =+2.0 D, deemed significant when > or =+3.0 D. Astigmatism was defined as cylinder > or =1.0 D and anisometropia as SE refraction difference between eyes at least 1.0 D. Amblyopia was defined as corrected visual acuity <0.3 logMAR units (<20/40; <40 letters) in the affected eye not attributable to any underlying structural abnormality of the eye or visual pathway, together with a 2-logMAR line difference between the eyes and presence of an amblyogenic risk factor.
Results: The mean visual acuity of this sample was 20/25 (49.3 letters). Uncorrected visual impairment was found in the better eye of 23 children (1.3%) and in the worse eye of 71 children (4.1%). The prevalence was higher in girls than boys and among children of lower socioeconomic status. Refractive error was the most frequent cause, accounting for 69.0%, followed by amblyopia (22.5%). Astigmatism was the principle refractive error causing visual impairment and was frequently uncorrected. Presenting visual impairment (using current glasses if worn) was found in the better and worse eyes of 15 children (0.9%) and 54 children (2.8%), respectively. This was mainly due to under corrected or uncorrected refractive error.
Conclusions: This study has documented a relatively low prevalence of visual impairment in a population of Australian children. Uncorrected astigmatism and amblyopia were the most frequent causes.