Importance: This follow-up study of extremely preterm (EPT) children (<27 weeks' gestational age [GA] at birth) revealed major eye and visual problems in 37.9% (147 of 388) of all EPT infants and in 55.4% (67 of 121) of the most immature subgroups at 6.5 years of age. These major eye and visual problems were strongly associated with treatment-requiring retinopathy of prematurity (ROP).
Objectives: To investigate the ophthalmologic outcome of a national cohort of EPT children at 6.5 years of age and to evaluate the impact of prematurity and ROP.
Design, setting, and participants: All surviving EPT children born in Sweden between April 1, 2004, and March 31, 2007, were included and compared with a matched term control group, as part of a prospective national follow-up study.
Main outcomes and measures: Visual acuity, refraction in cycloplegia, and manifest strabismus were evaluated and compared with GA at birth and with treatment-requiring ROP.
Results: The study cohort comprised 486 participants. The mean (SD) GA of the children who were included was 25 (1) weeks, and 45.7% (222 of 486) were female. At a median age of 6.6 years, 89.3% (434 of 486) of eligible EPT children were assessed and compared with 300 control group children. In the EPT group, 2.1% (9 of 434) were blind, 4.8% (21 of 434) were visually impaired according to the World Health Organization criteria, and 8.8% (38 of 434) were visually impaired according to the study criteria. Strabismus was found in 17.4% (68 of 390) and refractive errors in 29.7% (115 of 387) of the EPT children compared with 0% (0 of 299) and 5.9% (17 of 289), respectively, of the control children (P < .001). Altogether at 6.5 years of age, 37.9% (147 of 388) of the EPT children had some ophthalmologic abnormality compared with 6.2% (18 of 290) of the matched control group (95% CI of the difference, 26.1%-37.2%). When treatment-requiring ROP was adjusted for, no significant association between GA and visual impairment could be detected. For refractive errors, the association with GA remained after adjustment for treatment-requiring ROP (odds ratio, 0.72; 95% CI, 0.58-0.91 for each 1-week increment).
Conclusions and relevance: In a Swedish national cohort of EPT children at 6.5 years of age, major eye and visual problems were frequently found. Treatment-requiring ROP was a stronger impact factor than GA on visual impairment and strabismus, but not on refractive errors, as a whole. In modern neonatal intensive care settings, ophthalmologic problems continue to account for a high proportion of long-term sequelae of prematurity.