Background: An understanding of the causes of blindness and the magnitude of the problem is crucial in designing effective intervention and prevention programs. We undertook this retrospective review to determine the causes of childhood blindness at an eye referral center.
Patients and methods: We reviewed charts of children who presented between August 1997 and August 2003. All children had a complete ophthalmologic examination. Blindness was defined as a visual acuity < 20/400, visual impairment as visual acuity between 20/400 and 20/60, and visual loss as a visual acuity < 20/60.
Results: A total of 5217 children included 220 (59%) males and 152 (41%) females (age range 2 to 18 years, mean age, 10 years). One hundred twelve (2%) were blind and 260 (5%) had visual impairment. The most common causes of bilateral blindness included optic nerve diseases, retinal disorders, and cataract. The most common causes of unilateral blindness included trauma, retinal diseases, refractive errors, and optic nerve diseases. The most common causes of bilateral visual impairment included refractive errors, corneal diseases, retinal disorders, cataract, and congenital nystagmus. Genetically determined disorders were observed in 37 (70%) of 53 patients with bilateral blindness, and in 52 (56%) of 93 patients with bilateral visual impairment. The incidence of consanguinity among parents of children with acquired causes was 2 (3%) of 59 patients compared to 34 (38%) of 89 among genetically determined causes (P < 0.001).
Conclusion: Genetically determined disorders continue to play an important role in the causation of childhood blindness among patients attending our referral center in Saudi Arabia. Genetic counseling, early eye screening of children and public education may help in the prevention of visual disorders in children.