Preventive medicine is increasingly important in attempts to fulfill society’s expectations of modern medicine with the resources available. Although prevention is a logical approach to the solution of many problems in all branches of medicine, in practice, there are a number of hurdles to overcome. For any particular condition, it is essential that individuals at risk be easily identified. If their identification requires population screening, the process should be easy to perform, accurate, and reliable. Preventive measures must be both effective and acceptable to the target population. Unwarranted interference with the at-risk individual’s lifestyle only leads to poor compliance. Legislation may be required for certain measures but may engender resentment when it is felt to infringe on personal liberty. For preventive medicine to be successful, there must be cooperation among all segments of society—not just the medical community—in identifying problem areas, establishing workable solutions, and disseminating information. The successes that have been achieved in occupational health are an example of what can be accomplished if a consensus of opinion is established.
In ophthalmology, the major avenues for preventive medicine are ocular injuries and infections, genetic and systemic diseases with ocular involvement, and ocular diseases in which the early treatable stages are often unrecognized or ignored.
PREVENTION OF OCULAR INJURIES
Ocular injuries are a very preventable cause of vision loss because simple preventive measures are often available. Injuries can vary from closed globe (blunt trauma or chemical injuries) to open globe injuries including rupture, perforation, and penetration (see Chapter 19). WHO statistics show that over 55 million eye injuries occur each year; 1.6 million people are rendered blind, 2.3 million develop bilateral low vision, and 19 million have monocular blindness or low vision. The US Eye Injury Register (USEIR) statistics show that over 57% of injuries occur in people under 30 years of age, with the percentage being even higher in work-related injuries.
Eye injuries remain a significant risk to worker health, especially among individuals in jobs requiring intensive manual labor. Many manufacturing processes pose a particular threat to the eye. Grinding or drilling commonly propels small fragments of metal into the environment at high velocity, and these projectiles can easily lodge on the cornea or penetrate the globe through the cornea or sclera. Tools with sharp ends are also commonly involved in producing penetrating ocular injuries. Welding arcs produce ultraviolet radiation that may cause epithelial keratitis (“arc eye”). Industrial chemicals—particularly those containing high concentrations of alkali or acid—can rapidly produce severe ocular damage that is often bilateral and associated with a poor visual outcome.
New legislation, increased worker training, particularly targeting groups most at risk, provision of effective eye protection equipment, and development of a culture of safety in the workplace have led to a decline in eye injuries. Workers must be properly trained in the use of tools, machinery, and chemicals. Safety guards must be fitted to all machinery, and safety goggles must be worn whenever the worker is doing hazardous work or is in the workplace area where such hazards exist. It is surprising how many workers assume that they are no longer at risk of injury when they are not themselves performing hazardous tasks even though they are in the vicinity of work being performed by others.
The growing interest in “do-it-yourself” projects in the home exposes many more individuals to the risks of ocular injury from machinery, tools, and chemicals. Education of the public to recognize and minimize such risks, which may not be obvious to the ordinary householder or hobbyist, is particularly important.
Early recognition and urgent expert ophthalmologic assessment of any injuries sustained are essential. In the case of chemical injuries, immediate copious lavage of the eyes with sterile water, saline if available, or tap water for at least 5 minutes is the most important method of limiting the damage incurred. Neglect of penetrating injuries or corneal foreign bodies markedly increases the potential for long-term morbidity. Obtaining an accurate history is crucial in identifying the possibility of a penetrating injury. This is particularly true when medical help is sought some time after the injury and the patient may not realize the importance of a seemingly minor episode of trauma. Any worker who presents with unexplained visual loss or intraocular inflammation must be carefully questioned about the possibility of recent ocular injuries, and the possibility of an occult intraocular foreign body must be borne in mind.
Chronic exposure to ultraviolet light or ionizing radiation, such as from improperly screened nuclear materials or in radiology departments, can lead to early and rapid cataract, and care must be taken to monitor and decrease exposure. In one study, the prevalence of cataract was 64% in radiology technicians, 16% in radiologists, 10% in respiratory physicians, and 2% in nuclear medicine department staff, with an overall relative risk of 5 compared to unexposed health care workers.
The marked reduction in the incidence of severe ocular and facial damage associated with car windshield injuries as a result of legislation requiring the wearing of seatbelts demonstrates the effectiveness of such regulations. Similar attempts to reduce the incidence of injuries from fireworks by limiting their availability have not yet been as successful.
Various sports and other activities are notorious for the high incidence of severe injuries to the eye (Table 20–4). Protective, toughened plastic glasses with refractive correction are available to lower risk in certain situations.
Table 20–4.Sports and Other Activities Predisposing to Ocular Injuries and the Types of Such Injuries |Favorite Table|Download (.pdf) Table 20–4. Sports and Other Activities Predisposing to Ocular Injuries and the Types of Such Injuries
|Activities ||Injuries |
Raised intraocular pressure
Sharp objects (scissors, pencils, darts)
Firearms and explosives
Acute keratitis from ultraviolet irradiation, such as seen after exposure to a welding arc, may also occur during skiing if protective goggles are not worn. People wearing contact lenses and with previous history of eye diseases are more vulnerable. Prevention of the keratitis is best achieved with sunglasses with sidepieces and goggles with polarized or photochromic lenses. The role of long-term exposure to ultraviolet light in the etiology of age-related macular degeneration is still debated. There is substantial evidence linking ultraviolet exposure to the development of cataract. However, since ultraviolet exposure occurs from the time of birth, the benefit of regular use of ultraviolet filters in spectacle lenses or sunglasses as a preventive measure has not been demonstrated. The role of ultraviolet light exposure in the etiology of certain corneal disorders—particularly pterygium—and of basal cell carcinoma and melanoma of the eyelids is widely accepted. Education of the public about the dangers of skin cancer following prolonged sun exposure is very important. Ultraviolet-blocking skin creams should not be used around the eyes, and for that reason, reliance must be placed on avoiding unnecessary exposure to the sun or the use of sunglasses. In patients with xeroderma pigmentosum, the eyelids and bulbar conjunctiva frequently develop carcinomas and melanomas, and their development can be minimized, if not prevented entirely, by protective lenses.
Solar retinitis (eclipse retinopathy) is a specific type of radiation injury that usually occurs after solar eclipses as a result of direct observation of the sun without an adequate filter. Under normal circumstances, sun-gazing is difficult because of the glare, but cases have been reported in young people who have suffered self-inflicted macular damage by deliberate sun-gazing, perhaps while under the influence of drugs. The optical system of the eye behaves as a strong magnifying lens, focusing the light onto a small spot on the macula, usually in one eye only, and producing a thermal burn. The resulting edema of the retinal tissue may clear with minimal loss of function, or it may cause significant atrophy of the tissue and produce a defect that is visible ophthalmoscopically. A permanent central scotoma then results. Eclipse retinopathy can easily be prevented by the use of adequate filters when observing eclipses.
Similar to eclipse retinopathy is the iatrogenic retinal damage that may occur from use of the operating microscope, indirect ophthalmoscope (photic retinopathy), and misdirected recreational laser. The risk of damage from the operating microscope can be reduced by the use of filters to block both ultraviolet light and the blue portion of the visible spectrum, light barriers such as an opaque disk placed on the cornea, or air injected into the anterior chamber.
PREVENTION OF ACQUIRED OCULAR INFECTION
Infections are a major cause of preventable ocular morbidity. Preventive measures are based on maintenance of the integrity of the normal barriers to infection and avoidance of inoculation with pathogenic organisms. The pathogenicity of various organisms and the size of the inoculum required to establish infection vary enormously according to the state of the eye. Most organisms enter the eye through a defect in the ocular surface or via the bloodstream, but some organisms are able to penetrate intact corneal epithelium (Table 20–5). A compromised eye is highly susceptible to infection.
Table 20–5.Organisms Able to Penetrate Intact Corneal Epithelium |Favorite Table|Download (.pdf) Table 20–5. Organisms Able to Penetrate Intact Corneal Epithelium
The major barrier to exogenous ocular infection is the epithelium of the cornea and conjunctiva. This can be damaged directly by trauma, including surgical trauma and contact lens wear, or by the secondary effects of other abnormalities of the outer eye, such as lid abnormalities or tear deficiency. In all such situations, particular care must be taken to avoid or recognize secondary infection in its earliest stages.
In the presence of a corneal or conjunctival epithelial defect, particularly when there is an associated full-thickness wound of the cornea or sclera, it is essential to use prophylactic antibiotic therapy and most importantly to make certain that any drops or ointments are sterile. Accidental epithelial injury should be avoided whenever possible, particularly in compromised eyes, such as in exophthalmic eyes with exposure, abnormal eyelid function from facial palsy, or eyes with corneal anesthesia. The classic situation is the combination of fifth and seventh nerve dysfunction such as occurs after surgery for cerebellopontine angle tumor, producing a dry, anesthetic eye with poor eyelid closure. Any comatose patient is also at risk of corneal exposure, and prophylactic ocular lubrication and possibly eyelid taping should be undertaken.
Any unnecessary exposure of the eye to pathogenic organisms should be avoided, but it becomes critical in certain situations. During intraocular surgery, the normal barriers to infection are circumvented, and meticulous attention must be paid to avoiding contamination of the eye with organisms. The ocular environment must be assessed preoperatively to identify and treat any sources of pathogenic organisms. These include colonization or infection of the lacrimal sac; the lid margins, which are frequently colonized by Staphylococcus epidermidis—a major cause of endophthalmitis after cataract surgery; the conjunctiva; and the cornea. Considerations may need to be given to other sites of bacterial colonization or infection, such as the bladder, throat, nose, and skin. In emergency situations, it may only be possible to identify such sources and use prophylactic antibiotic therapy to reduce the chances of subsequent infection, whereas for elective surgery, more definitive therapy to eradicate or minimize the pathogenic organisms should be possible. In patients with no identifiable external ocular disease, immediate preoperative instillation of povidone iodine into the conjunctival sac has been shown to be beneficial, and postoperative antibiotics are presumed to be important. Intraocular injection of cefuroxime at the conclusion of cataract surgery reduces the risk of postoperative endophthalmitis, but the correct formulation must be used to avoid corneal damage. Whether inclusion of antibiotic, such as vancomycin, in the infusion fluid during cataract surgery is appropriate continues to be debated. Sterility of the operative field, instruments, intraocular and topical medications, and other fluids introduced into the eye must be ensured. During the postoperative period, sterile medications must be used and contact with other patients with established ocular infections avoided.
Contact lens wear is strongly associated with suppurative keratitis due to the combination of an abnormal load of pathogenic organisms and probable recurrent minor trauma to the corneal epithelium. The incidence of suppurative keratitis is particularly high with soft lenses, especially with extended wear. Overnight wear increases the risk five-fold compared to daily wear with regular replacement. It is apparent that many people wearing contact lenses for cosmetic reasons are not aware of the risks involved. Whereas it may be reasonable to face the risks of infection with extended-wear soft lenses in elderly aphakes who are dependent on contact lenses for refractive correction and cannot cope with daily wear lenses, or in patients with highly compromised eyes that are symptomatic from bullous keratopathy, the arguments in favor of extended-wear soft lenses for refractive correction in patients with low refractive errors are less strong. A number of patients in this latter group start off their contact lens career using extended-wear disposable lenses, which is of course an attractive arrangement because it dispenses with the need for lens cleaning and the associated paraphernalia, but this practice is likely to require an unwelcome sacrifice of safety for convenience. The use of preservative-free solutions, multipurpose solutions, and no rub formulas may have increased the chances of suppurative keratitis by providing less antimicrobial activity. Epidemics of Fusarium and Acanthamoeba keratitis have been related to particular contact lens solutions.
All contact lens wearers must be apprised of the relative risk of suppurative keratitis and the need for meticulous contact lens hygiene and avoidance of overnight wear or continuing to use lenses beyond their disposal time. Many do not realize that many ocular infections are contracted in swimming pools and hot tubs, with chlorine levels not being adequate to kill protozoa like Acanthamoeba; thus, contact lenses should be removed in these situations. All contact lens wearers should be advised to keep a pair of spectacles available so that contact lens wear can be discontinued immediately whenever an eye becomes uncomfortable or inflamed. If ocular discomfort or inflammation persists, the wearer should seek ophthalmologic advice without delay.
In developing countries where contact lens wear is uncommon, the greatest risk factor for corneal ulceration is trauma, usually experienced in the course of everyday agricultural activities. These undocumented abrasions are now recognized as the cause of a “silent epidemic” of corneal ulceration that is a major cause of monocular vision loss in those regions. Studies in India have shown that both bacterial and fungal ulcers that occur after corneal abrasion can be prevented by the application of an antibiotic ointment three times a day for 3 days in the injured eye. The biological mechanism for fungal ulcer prevention by an antibiotic is not readily understood.
Neonatal conjunctivitis (see Chapter 17) is a good example of exposure to a heavy load of pathogenic organisms with the added inherent susceptibility of the poorly developed immune mechanisms of the neonatal eye. The major organisms that may produce neonatal conjunctivitis are Neisseria gonorrhoeae, chlamydiae, herpes simplex, Staphylococcus aureus, Haemophilus species, and Streptococcus pneumoniae. Exposure to these organisms occurs during passage down the birth canal. It should be possible to prevent neonatal conjunctivitis by treating mothers harboring these organisms prior to delivery, and this has been achieved for the bacteria, including Chlamydia. The alternative approach is the routine ocular prophylaxis of neonates. This started with the silver nitrate prophylaxis of Credé and has been superseded in a number of centers by topical erythromycin in view of the predominance of chlamydial neonatal conjunctivitis. Neonatal gonococcal infection can rapidly lead to corneal perforation such that urgent treatment with intravenous ceftriaxone is important.
PREVENTION OF IATROGENIC OCULAR AND NONOCULAR INFECTION
Ophthalmologists have been clearly implicated in the transmission of infectious eye disease. Outbreaks of epidemic keratoconjunctivitis have been traced to contamination within the hospital or ophthalmologist’s office. The adenovirus is transmitted via hands, a tonometer, or solutions contaminated by droppers accidentally rubbed against the infected conjunctiva or lid margin of a patient. Contaminated ophthalmic solutions have also been the source of infection in bacterial corneal ulcers and endophthalmitis following intraocular surgery. Spread of infection can be reduced by infection control policies. A study from the United Kingdom demonstrated a reduction in the proportion of adenovirus infections that were hospital acquired from 48.4% to 22.7% at 12 months and 3.4% at 24 months after new infection control policy, including separate waiting and examination areas and expediting examination of suspected cases. Pseudomonas aeruginosa used to be a common contaminant of ophthalmic solutions, particularly fluorescein. Instillation of contaminated fluorescein solution to delineate corneal epithelial defects (eg, after removal of a corneal foreign body) may result in severe keratitis and, frequently, loss of the eye.
The ophthalmologist should be alert to the possibility of transmission by ophthalmic instruments or, in donor cornea or sclera, of agents responsible for nonocular infection, including hepatitis B virus, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and prions. Applanation tonometer tips may be adequately sterilized with respect to many infectious agents, including hepatitis B virus, HIV, herpes simplex virus, and adenovirus, by wiping with 70% isopropyl alcohol swabs and then allowing the instrument to dry by evaporation. It is imperative that the tonometer tip be completely dry before use on the next patient or corneal epithelial damage will result. However, this method of sterilization is probably not effective against prions, for which immersion in hypochlorite, which is less practical and more likely to damage the tonometer tip, resulting in corneal injury, is required. In this case, the tonometer tip should be rinsed in tap water and dried before use. Immersion in hypochlorite at the end of each working day and after examination of high-risk patients is a possible compromise. Many ophthalmologists have changed to routine or as-required use of disposable tonometer tips, which provide reliable results. The noncontact tonometer is recommended for reducing the risks of disease transmission, but it may generate an aerosol spray that endangers the individual operating the tonometer. Goldmann three-mirror and similar contact lenses used for patient examination are also susceptible to damage from immersion in hypochlorite, and use of disposables is not always feasible. Ophthalmologists must maintain the highest level of personal hygiene at all times and must use standard sterile technique when appropriate, keeping in mind the possibility of contamination of any solution brought into contact with the eye.
Hands play a major role in the transmission of infection. They should be washed or disinfected (eg, with isopropyl alcohol) before and after the examination of every patient, especially if an ocular infection is thought to be present.
PREVENTION OF OCULAR DAMAGE DUE TO CONGENITAL INFECTIONS
Viral disease of the mother with resultant embryopathy may lead in the offspring to many damaging ocular conditions (eg, microphthalmos, retinopathy, infantile glaucoma, iridocyclitis, cataract), and in some cases, prevention may be possible. Two viruses, rubella and cytomegalovirus, can be extremely damaging to the infant; however, rubella virus can be prevented by vaccination. Once a common childhood disease, universal vaccination in developed countries has rendered rubella essentially eradicated in this part of the world. However, it still poses a risk in the developing world and areas where vaccination is refused. If a mother contracts rubella during early pregnancy, she should be informed of the likelihood of ocular and other abnormalities in her baby, and the arguments for and against abortion should be presented. Unfortunately, cytomegalovirus continues to be a serious and unsolved threat, potentially causing life- and sight-threatening complications. No protective vaccine is available, although one is under study. At present, early diagnosis and treatment with intravenous and intravitreal ganciclovir is the best way to prevent complications.
Toxoplasmosis is another important cause of congenital infection, leading to (1) chorioretinitis; (2) cerebral or cerebellar calcification; (3) hydrocephalus; and, occasionally, (4) more severe central nervous system abnormalities. Unless the mother is immunocompromised, fetal infection occurs only if she acquires primary infection during pregnancy, with a 40% risk of transmission to the fetus. Maternal infection can be prevented by eating only meat that is well cooked, by washing vegetables and fruits, and by wearing gloves when disposing of cat litter or working in the garden so that contact with viable oocysts and tissue cysts is avoided. It has been shown that if acute maternal infection during pregnancy is identified with serologic testing, appropriate antibiotic treatment as early as the 15th week of gestation reduces the incidence of congenital infection and improves the clinical outcome in fetuses that are infected.
Herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) infection is a sexually transmitted disease, with a 50% risk of transmission to the neonate if the mother has active genital infection at the time of delivery. Women who acquire HSV-2 as a primary infection in the second half of pregnancy, rather than prior to pregnancy, are at greatest risk of transmitting the virus. An additional risk factor for neonatal HSV infection is the use of a fetal-scalp electrode. HSV-2 infection causes not only ocular disease (vesicular eyelid lesions, conjunctivitis, keratitis, cataract, or retinochoroiditis), but also disseminated infection, which has 75% mortality.
If primary genital infection is acquired during the first two trimesters, repeated viral cultures of genital secretions should be carried out from the 32nd week of gestation. If two consecutive cultures are negative and there are no active herpetic genital lesions at the time of delivery, it is safe to perform a vaginal delivery. If primary genital infection is acquired during the third trimester of pregnancy, guidelines are unclear, but the current recommendation is to perform elective cesarean section.
Pregnant women with a first clinical episode or recurrent infection, particularly within a few weeks of delivery, may be treated with acyclovir or valacyclovir. Neither drug is approved for treatment of pregnant women. No increase in fetal abnormalities has been attributed so far to such treatment.
PREVENTION OF GENETIC DISEASE WITH OCULAR INVOLVEMENT
The genetic nature of many disorders that affect the eye is now recognized and their transmission better understood. Diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa, retinoblastoma, or neurofibromatosis and their genetic predisposition are of crucial importance when parents are considering conception.
Prenatal diagnosis, with the option of abortion if the diagnosis is made sufficiently early, is available for an increasing number of conditions. Postnatal screening to facilitate early diagnosis is also important when there is a relevant family history. For example, children at risk of retinoblastoma should be examined every 6 months until the age of 5 or 6 or until genetic testing has been performed.
PREVENTION OF OCULAR DAMAGE DUE TO SYSTEMIC DISEASES
It is important for nonophthalmologic practitioners, particularly internists, general practitioners, and pediatricians, to be aware of the systemic diseases that have avoidable ophthalmic consequences.
Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of blindness developing between ages 20 and 64 in developed countries. Treatment is available to prevent such vision loss, but for best effect, it must be administered before visual loss has occurred; that is, diabetics must undergo regular fundal examination and be referred whenever treatment is indicated. Even more important is prevention of development of diabetic retinopathy, which is dependent on optimization of blood sugar, blood pressure, serum lipids, and renal function.
Occasional cases of vitamin A deficiency, potentially leading to visual loss due to photoreceptor dysfunction or due to xerophthalmia with associated corneal disease (keratomalacia), still occur. In developing countries, where nutrition is often poor, xerophthalmia is still common. Worldwide, the usual cause of vitamin deficiency is poor diet associated with poverty (see earlier in the chapter). Other causes are poor absorption from the gastrointestinal tract due to gastrointestinal disease, bowel resection, or bariatric surgery, weight-reducing diets, dietary management of food allergy, and chronic alcoholism. Because of the ocular manifestations (night blindness, Bitot’s spots, and a lackluster corneal epithelium), the ophthalmologist may be the first to recognize vitamin A deficiency. Early recognition and treatment can prevent loss of vision. Treatment of the acute condition may require large intramuscular doses of vitamin A followed by corrective diet and careful analysis of all possible causes. Individuals at risk of deficiency, such as due to severe gastrointestinal disease or following bowel resection or bariatric surgery, should be prescribed prophylactic vitamin A supplementation.
PREVENTION OF VISUAL LOSS DUE TO DRUGS
It is the ophthalmologist’s responsibility to prevent visual loss or major ocular disability from drugs used to treat eye diseases. Topical corticosteroids predispose to bacterial keratitis and exacerbate herpes simplex keratitis. Long-term use of topical, oral, or inhaled corticosteroids may lead to open-angle glaucoma and posterior subcapsular cataract. Topical anesthetics should never be prescribed or made available for long-term use because severe corneal ulceration and scarring may result. Preservatives in eye drops are commonly the cause of allergic reactions and, with long-term use, may cause a cicatrizing conjunctivitis similar to cicatricial pemphigoid (see Chapter 5).
Many drugs used systemically have serious ocular side effects and may cause conditions such as Stevens-Johnson syndrome (erythema multiforme), angle-closure glaucoma, optic neuropathy, and retinopathy (see Chapter 22). For this reason, the ophthalmologist must take a careful history of the patient’s use of drugs as part of the initial examination.
EARLY DETECTION OF TREATABLE OCULAR DISEASE
Early diagnosis and treatment markedly improve the visual outcome of many ophthalmic conditions. For some, such as suppurative keratitis, acute angle-closure glaucoma, neovascular age-related macular degeneration, retinal detachment, and giant cell arteritis, the crucial factor is the recognition by health care workers and advice to patients of the importance of seeking ophthalmological assessment as soon as visual symptoms occur. Other conditions may have minimal symptoms or findings in the early stages. Unfortunately, this may be when treatment might be most effective, and routine screening may be indicated. It needs to be established, however, that screening is effective both in terms of cost and its impact on the course of disease.
Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma
Primary open-angle glaucoma is a major cause of preventable vision loss worldwide, particularly among individuals of African or Caribbean racial origin. About 2 million Americans have the disease, although half are undiagnosed. The prevalence of primary open-angle glaucoma increases from 0.1% for those age 40–49 to 5% for those over age 75. Symptoms do not usually occur until there is advanced visual field loss. For treatment to be effective, the disease must be detected at a much earlier stage. Screening programs are hampered by the high prevalence of raised intraocular pressure in the absence of glaucomatous visual field loss (ocular hypertension), which is 10 times more common than primary open-angle glaucoma; the high frequency of normal intraocular pressure on a single reading in untreated open-angle glaucoma; and the complexities of screening for optic disk or visual field abnormalities. Nevertheless, the best means of detecting primary open-angle glaucoma early is annual tonometry and optic disk assessment of adults and first-degree relatives of affected individuals with referral to an ophthalmologist of all those with relevant abnormalities. Examination of all individuals over age 50 every 3–5 years may also be worthwhile, particularly in high-risk populations.
As already discussed (see earlier in the chapter), in developed countries, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of new blindness among adults age 20–65 years. It is present in about 40% of diagnosed diabetic patients, and its prevalence is particularly increasing in individuals age 65 years or older. Retinopathy increases in prevalence and severity with increasing duration and poorer glycemic control. In type 1 diabetes, retinopathy is not detectable for at least 3 years after diagnosis. In type 2 diabetes, retinopathy is present in up to 20% of patients at diagnosis and may be the presenting feature. Diabetic retinopathy is broadly classified as nonproliferative or proliferative with or without maculopathy. To reduce the risk of permanent visual loss, the main abnormalities to which screening programs are directed are new vessel formation, particularly on the optic disk, and exudates around the macula. Screening programs generally rely on review of at least annual fundal photographs following pupil dilation, with referral to an ophthalmologist when vision-threatening abnormalities are detected. More frequent screening is needed during pregnancy. Any diabetic developing visual loss should be referred for ophthalmic assessment. (See Chapters 10 and 15.)
Retinopathy of Prematurity
Retinopathy of prematurity is the consequence of disturbance of the retinal vascularization that normally occurs in utero during the latter half of pregnancy. The main risk factors are decreased gestational age and low birth weight. It has been estimated to result in 400–600 new cases of infant blindness each year in the United States (see Chapter 17). In many cases, retinopathy of prematurity regresses spontaneously, but laser treatment for severe active disease is beneficial. It is recommended that all babies younger than 30 weeks of gestational age, with a birth weight of 1500 g or less, or who receive supplemental oxygen therapy undergo regular screening from 2–4 weeks after birth until the retina is fully vascularized in both eyes, any retinopathy of prematurity has regressed, or any necessary treatment has been completed.
Amblyopia literally means poor vision but is generally used to mean reduced visual acuity in excess of that explained by structural, ocular, or visual pathway disease. Central vision develops from birth to age 8, after which time further development is unlikely to occur. The formation of the necessary neural structures and connections for development of central vision is dependent on normal visual experience. The common entities preventing this are strabismus, impairing binocular function, and unequal refractive error (anisometropia), causing a less well-focused retinal image in one eye. The consequence is preferential development of central vision in the fixing or more focused eye and hindered central vision in the fellow eye. Media opacity, marked refractive error, or severe ptosis can also result in amblyopia.
Amblyopia is treated by correction of the inciting cause and then patching of the dominant eye. A crucial determinant of treatment success is how early the amblyopia is detected and treated.
Routine neonatal examinations should include assessment of red reflex to identify media opacity. This should also include screening for strabismus via the cover-uncover test. Any child observed to have strabismus after the age of 3 months should be seen by an ophthalmologist. All preschool children should have their visual acuity tested. Photorefraction, which relies on assessment of the red reflex from each eye, is useful in screening for anisometropia, ametropia, astigmatism, and strabismus in preschool children.
Parents should be made aware of the importance of reporting strabismus, abnormal ocular appearance, or poor visual performance, particularly if there is a relevant family history. Visual acuity testing can be performed at home with the illiterate “E” chart, which is sometimes known as the “Home Eye Test.” Abnormalities of the red reflex on photographs may alert parents to ocular abnormalities.
Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis
Uveitis associated with oligoarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis, which generally occurs in girls with positive antinuclear antibodies, is typically asymptomatic in its early stages and often remains undetected until severe loss of vision due to glaucoma, cataract, or band keratopathy has already occurred. Regular ophthalmic screening every 6 months should take place.