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Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. 2006 Sep;26(5):507-22.

The Mallett Fixation Disparity Test: influence of test instructions and relationship with symptoms.

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Department of Optometry and Visual Science, City University, Northampton Square, London EC1V 0HB, UK.


Fixation disparity is a minute ocular misalignment under conditions of binocular single vision and is typically detected in primary eye care practices in the UK using the Mallett Unit Fixation Disparity Test. This instrument creates natural viewing conditions, when the patient's binocular system is fused using both central and peripheral fusion locks. This allows the examiner to determine the minimum prism power that eliminates the fixation disparity: the associated phoria or aligning prism. The spherical power that eliminates the fixation disparity, the aligning sphere, can also be determined. The near Mallett Unit Fixation Disparity Test has been shown to have good sensitivity and specificity for detecting symptomatic heterophoria. Cases of decompensated heterophoria tend to have a fixation disparity and the aligning prism or aligning sphere is a good indicator of the correction that will render the heterophoria compensated. The purpose of this study was, for the first time, to investigate the effect of test instructions on the results of the Mallett Unit Fixation Disparity Test. In study 1, we surveyed and observed practitioners to determine the instructions that are typically used. In study 2, we compared results obtained with this "standard" method of questioning with a more "specific" form of questioning that has been suggested in the literature. The participants for study 2 were 105 patients aged 7-70 years who were randomly selected from those attending a community optometric practice. Significantly different results were obtained with the two sets of instructions. The specific form of questioning revealed more cases of fixation disparity and the results with this method showed a better correlation with symptoms. This only held for near vision: for distance vision, symptoms were not significantly correlated with the presence of fixation disparity. This agrees with previous work with the Mallett unit, which showed a significant relationship with symptoms only at near. We also found that patients with more severe symptoms had greater degrees of aligning prism. Our study supports previous work indicating that the Mallett unit is a useful tool for detecting symptomatic heterophoria at near. However, we found that the testing method is important: patients need to be asked not just whether the nonius strips are aligned but also whether one or both of the strips ever moves. More research is needed to investigate the significance of precise test instructions in other optometric and orthoptic tests.

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