The effects of preterm birth on visual development
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Children born very preterm are at a greater risk of abnormal visual and neurological development when compared to children born at full term. Preterm birth is associated with retinopathy of prematurity (a proliferative retinal vascular disease) and can also affect the development of brain structures associated with post-retinal processing of visual information. Visual deficits common in children born preterm, such as reduced visual acuity, strabismus, abnormal stereopsis and refractive error, are likely to be detected through childhood vision screening programs, ophthalmological follow-up or optometric care. However, routine screening may not detect other vision problems, such as reduced visual fields, impaired contrast sensitivity and deficits in cortical visual processing, that may occur in children born preterm. For example, visual functions associated with the dorsal visual processing stream, such as global motion perception and visuomotor integration, may be impaired by preterm birth. These impairments can continue into adolescence and adulthood and may contribute to the difficulties in learning (particularly reading and mathematics), attention, behaviour and cognition that some children born preterm experience. Improvements in understanding the mechanisms by which preterm birth affects vision will inform future screening and interventions for children born preterm.
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