Comparison of amblyopia in schoolchildren in Ireland and Northern Ireland: a population-based observational cross-sectional analysis of a treatable childhood visual deficit

Siofra Harrington, Karen Breslin, Veronica O'Dwyer, Kathryn J Saunders

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Abstract

Objectives

This study reports the prevalence of persistent amblyopia (post-traditional treatment age) in schoolchildren in the Republic of Ireland (henceforth Ireland) and Northern Ireland (NI), UK; populations with broadly similar refractive and genetic profiles but different eye-care systems. 

Design 

This is a population-based observational study of amblyopia and refractive error. 

Setting 

Recruitment and testing in primary and postprimary schools in Ireland and NI. 

Participants 

Two groups identified through random cluster sampling to represent the underlying population; Ireland 898 participants (12–13 years old) and NI 723 participants (295 aged 9–10 years old, 428 aged 15– 16 years old). 

Main outcome measures 

Monocular logMAR visual acuity (presenting and pinhole), refractive error (cycloplegic autorefraction), ocular alignment (cover test) and history of previous eye care. These metrics were used to determine prevalence and type of amblyopia and treatment histories. 

Results 

Children examined in NI between 2009 and 2011 had a significantly lower amblyopia prevalence than children examined in Ireland between 2016 and 2018 (two-sample test of proportions, p<0.001). Using a criteria of pinhole acuity 0.2logMAR (6/9.5 Snellen) plus an amblyogenic factor, 4 of 295 participants aged 9–10 years old (1.3%, 95% CIs 0.4 to 3.6) and 3 of 428 participants aged 15–16 years old (0.7%, 95%CIs 0.2 to 2.2) were identified in NI. The corresponding numbers in Ireland were 40 of 898 participants aged 12–13 years old (4.5%, 95%CI 3.2 to 6.1). In NI strabismic amblyopia was the most prevalent type of persistent amblyopia, whereas anisometropic was predominant in Ireland. In Ireland, amblyopia was associated with socioeconomic disadvantage (OR=2.2, 95%CIs 1.4 to 3.6, p=0.002) and poor spectacle compliance (OR 2.5, 95% CIs 2.0 to 3.2, p<0.001). Conclusions Amblyopia prevalence persisting beyond traditional treatment ages was significantly lower among NI children compared with Ireland. Uncorrected anisometropia, compliance with spectacle wear and socioeconomic disadvantage were contributing factors in Ireland. Children without obvious visible eye defects were less likely to access eye care in Ireland, resulting in missed opportunities for intervention where necessary.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere031066
Number of pages11
JournalBMJ Open
Volume2019
Early online date10 Aug 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 10 Aug 2019

Keywords

  • amblyopia
  • children
  • Ireland
  • Northern Ireland
  • visual impairment

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