AIMS--A study was carried out to compare the visual abilities of prematurely born children with those of matched full term controls. METHODS--The vision of 68 children born at less than 32 weeks' gestation and aged between 5 and 7 1/2 years at the time of testing was compared with that of a control group of children born at full term, and matched for sex and age from due date. RESULTS--The premature children had significantly poorer distance and near visual acuity, contrast sensitivity and stereopsis, and a high incidence of colour vision defects (predominantly tritan type). These differences were associated with the high incidence of ocular pathology experienced by 31 (45%) of the premature children compared with only nine (13%) of the controls. When excluding children with ocular and cerebral pathology, 32 matched pairs of premature and control children remained. The 32 premature children did not differ from their controls in terms of distance and near acuities or stereopsis, but they did have significantly poor contrast sensitivity in both their 'best' and 'worst' eyes. None of the 32 control children had colour vision defects, compared with seven of the matched premature children. CONCLUSION--This adds support to previous speculation that the preterm eye is at risk of subtle visual impairment independent of the occurrence of refractive error, manifest squint, disorders of the fundus and media, and cerebral damage.
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