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J Vis. 2003;3(5):380-405.

The pattern of visual deficits in amblyopia.

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  • 1Smith-Kettlewell Institute of Visual Sciences, San Francisco, CA, USA.


Amblyopia is usually defined as a deficit in optotype (Snellen) acuity with no detectable organic cause. We asked whether this visual abnormality is completely characterized by the deficit in optotype acuity, or whether it has distinct forms that are determined by the conditions associated with the acuity loss, such as strabismus or anisometropia. To decide this issue, we measured optotype acuity, Vernier acuity, grating acuity, contrast sensitivity, and binocular function in 427 adults with amblyopia or with risk factors for amblyopia and in a comparison group of 68 normal observers. Optotype acuity accounts for much of the variance in Vernier and grating acuity, and somewhat less of the variance in contrast sensitivity. Nevertheless, there are differences in the patterns of visual loss among the clinically defined categories, particularly between strabismic and anisometropic categories. We used factor analysis to create a succinct representation of our measurement space. This analysis revealed two main dimensions of variation in the visual performance of our abnormal sample, one related to the visual acuity measures (optotype, Vernier, and grating acuity) and the other related to the contrast sensitivity measures (Pelli-Robson and edge contrast sensitivity). Representing our data in this space reveals distinctive distributions of visual loss for different patient categories, and suggests that two consequences of the associated conditions--reduced resolution and loss of binocularity--determine the pattern of visual deficit. Non-binocular observers with mild-to-moderate acuity deficits have, on average, better monocular contrast sensitivity than do binocular observers with the same acuity loss. Despite their superior contrast sensitivity, non-binocular observers typically have poorer optotype acuity and Vernier acuity, at a given level of grating acuity, than those with residual binocular function.

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