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Visual impairment due to undiagnosed refractive error in working age adults in Britain


Background: Detection and treatment of undiagnosed refractive error (RE), with its attendant functional consequences, is a priority of VISION 2020, the global initiative against avoidable visual disability. The authors investigated the frequency of visual impairment due to undiagnosed RE and its associations with vision-related quality of life (VRQOL), general health and social circumstances in a contemporary and nationally representative population of British working-age adults.

Methods: 9271 members of the 1958 British birth cohort had visual acuity and VRQOL assessed at 44/45 years. The authors compared those with undiagnosed RE with those with diagnosed RE, defining undiagnosed RE as ⩾0.2 logMAR units/2 lines acuity improvement in both eyes with pinhole in individuals without current or prior optical treatment or ophthalmic history.

Results: 144/9271 (1.6%) individuals had undiagnosed and 3513/9271 (37.9%) diagnosed RE. 18% (24/144) of those with undiagnosed RE were classifiable as visually impaired. Individuals with undiagnosed RE were more likely to have a manual (vs non-manual) occupation and to be separated, divorced or widowed, and less likely to be in social or professional organisations. There is also some evidence that they are more likely to express concern, embarrassment and frustration about their eyesight and worry about coping with life.

Conclusion: A significant proportion of working age adults in Britain appear to have undiagnosed but visually significant RE. Improvements in existing opportunities for detecting RE in adults could benefit these individuals during their working lives and avoid the serious adverse consequences associated with vision impairment in later life.

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