The prevalence of amblyopia in Germany: data from the prospective, population-based Gutenberg Health Study

Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2015 May 8;112(19):338-44. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2015.0338.


Background: Amblyopia is due to insufficient development of the visual system in early childhood and is a major source of lifelong impairment of visual acuity. Too little is known about the prevalence of amblyopia in Germany and the frequency of its various causes.

Methods: The Gutenberg Health Study of the University of Mainz Faculty of Medicine is an ongoing population-based, prospective, monocentric cohort study with 15 010 participants aged 35 to 74. All participants are examined for the presence of ocular, cardiovascular, neoplastic, metabolic, immunologic, and mental diseases. 3227 participants aged 35 to 44 underwent ophthalmological examination from 2007 to 2012. Amblyopia was defined as impaired visual acuity in the absence of any organic pathology capable of explaining the condition, and in the presence of a known risk factor for amblyopia.

Results: Amblyopia, when defined as a visual acuity less than or equal to 0.63, was present in 182 participants (5.6%, 95% confidence interval [CI] 4.9-6.5%), 120 of whom had a visual acuity less than or equal to 0.5 (3.7%, 95% CI 3.3-5.2%). A narrower definition of amblyopia requiring, in addition, an interocular difference in acuity of at least two lines yielded slightly lower prevalence figures: 5.0% (95% CI 4.2-5.8%) and 3.7% (95% CI 3.1-4.4%), respectively. The causes of amblyopia (visual acuity ≤ 0.63) were anisometropia (different refractive strengths of the two eyes) in 49% of participants, strabismus (a squint) in 23%, both of these factors in 17%, and visual deprivation in 2%. 3 patients (2%) had relative amblyopia due to a traumatic cataract sustained in early childhood. 7% of the participants with amblyopia had binocular amblyopia.

Conclusion: This study yielded a prevalence figure of 5.6% for amblyopia in Germany-a higher figure than in other, comparable population-based studies, which have generally yielded figures of ca. 3% for visual acuity ≤ 0.63. The distribution of the causes of amblyopia is similar across studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Amblyopia / diagnosis*
  • Amblyopia / epidemiology*
  • Causality
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Visual Acuity*