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Keywords:

  • children;
  • vision screening;
  • population studies;
  • visual impairment;
  • amblyopia;
  • visual acuity testing;
  • evaluation of screening programs

Abstract. According to the general principles of screening, detection of visual impairment in children is worthwhile, since the condition is a serious health problem, reliable diagnostic tests are available and effective treatment is possible in most instances of ocular and visual dysfunction. However, an evaluation of the screening procedures has not been properly done and the cost-benefit of screening has not been studied. The aim of the present study is to perform a systematic analysis of the screening programs for detection of visual dysfunction. In the screening two parts can be separated, one that concerns the more serious ocular and visual conditions which have to be discovered by general survey methods very early in life, and one that involves detection of less serious conditions, mainly amblyopia, which can be diagnosed by testing for monocular reduction of visual acuity at about 3–4 years of age. The performance characteristics of the screening programs used in Sweden and Canada were evaluated and found to be very favourable. Based on the analysis and the evaluation, recommendations are made on programs for vision screening in children that could be applied more widely. The program could involve all or parts of the following:

  • 1) 
    A careful inspection of the eyes in the neonatal period and preferably also examination of the red reflex with the ophthalmoscope.
  • 2) 
    Children at high risk for ocular and visual disorder, i.e. those born prematurely before 32 weeks of age, or with genetic disease, hearing deficit and/or neurological and mental disorder, should be examined at the proper age by an ophthalmologist.
  • 3) 
    All staff at pediatric departments and child health care centers should be familiar with the visual development of the normal baby and should be alerted to the various symptoms and signs which first warn parents that there may be a visual defect. An inspection of the eyes to detect squint should be part of all pediatric examinations.
  • 4) 
    A screening test of monocular visual acuity in 4 year-old children can be reliably performed by non-ophthalmic personnel after proper training. The screening test should be repeated by school nurses during the first grade of school, and at regular intervals during the school years.
  • 5) 
    The children that screen positively should be seen by ophthalmologists, and in some cases by orthoptists, without undue delay for diagnosis and treatment.