Preemie Birth Boosts Risk for Later Vision Trouble

Study finds higher rate of problems at 10 years of age

TUESDAY, June 14, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Premature babies are more likely to have visual problems by the time they're 10 years old than full-term babies, Swedish researchers report.

The study authors noted that eye and neurological problems are common in premature babies, but not much is known about how being born prematurely affects visual acuity -- the sharpness or clarity of vision.

Uppsala University Hospital researchers studied 10-year-old children in Stockholm County, including 216 who'd been born prematurely, in order to assess how premature birth might affect vision. The study also looked at how sight is affected by retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a disorder of the blood vessels of the retina that's common in premature babies, and by cryotherapy, a standard treatment for ROP.

Of the 216 children who'd been born prematurely, 131 had no ROP. Of the remaining pre-term children who had moderate to severe ROP, 25 were treated with cryotherapy.

Reporting in the June Archives of Ophthalmology, the researchers found that the pre-term children had reduced distance and near visual acuities compared with the full-term children. This was true even when the researchers excluded pre-term children who'd had retinopathy and neurological disorders.

Two percent of the pre-term children were visually impaired, while 5.3 percent had a visual acuity below 20/60 in either eye. The highest risk of reduced visual acuity was among children who'd been treated with cryotherapy, the study found.

"Although we found an overall good visual outcome in the prematurely born cohort, the risk of reduced visual acuity was greater than in full-term children," the study authors wrote. "Children who had been treated with cryotherapy had the highest risk, but prematurity per se was also associated with reduced visual acuity."

More information

The U.S. National Eye Institute has more about retinopathy of prematurity.

SOURCE: American Medical Association, news release, June 13, 2005
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