In a world first, over an 18 month period, high school children in the Wellington region were given the opportunity to have their eyes tested for keratoconus, a degenerative and potentially serious eye disease.

Wellington Keratoconus Study - Prevalence among high school students

In a world first, over an 18 month period, high school children in the Wellington region were given the opportunity to have their eyes tested for keratoconus, a degenerative and potentially serious eye disease.

What was the study about?

The study was to screen hundreds of teenagers in the Wellington region to determine the prevalence of keratoconus in New Zealand.  New Zealand’s keratoconus rates were thought to be much higher than world estimates, and to affect Maori and Pacific ethnicities more frequently. If detected early, visual impairment from keratoconus is treatable with visual aids such as glasses and contact lenses. Early treatment also reduces the likelihood of the disease progressing by using corneal cross-linking therapy.

What is Keratoconus?

Keratoconus is a progressive eye disease, which causes the cornea - which is needed to focus light back on to the eye’s retina, to distort, becoming cone-shaped and thin. It is difficult to detect because, without measuring the cornea thickness, many symptoms are similar to other eye diseases, including halos around lights, headache from straining the eyes, and generally deteriorating vision. If picked up early it can be corrected with glasses but if undetected can eventually cause blindness and require a cornea transplant.

How was the study done?

All 49 high schools in the Wellington Region were invited to participate, with the board of trustees from 20 high schools agreed to join the study. Ethical approval was obtained from the Health and Disability Ethics Committees and each student was provided with a participant information sheet and required to submit parental written consent. All screening was carried out by the study’s sole ophthalmic research technician using a purposely equipped vehicle that visited the schools. Dr Reece Hall, from Bowen Eye Clinic, trained and supervised the ophthalmic technician and led the study.

The study was conducted by the former charity Capital Vision Research Trust with financial support from Lions Club, Ford, Bowen Hospital, Alcon Vision Care and local eye health specialists.

What did the study find?

A total of 1916 students in years 9 and 11 across 20 schools were studied in the prospective cross-sectional Wellington Keratoconus Study (WELKS), which found keratoconus affected 1 in 191 schoolchildren and 1 in 45 Maori adolescents, overall. Keratoconus was 25 times more prevalent in year 11s and nine times more prevalent in year 9s than previously thought. Of those diagnosed with keratoconus, 85% were male and 83% were of Maori descent. Keratoconus appeared to be associated with atopy, lower social decile, visual impairment and the under use of visual aids such as glasses or contact lenses.

Where to from here?

The study, published in the international journal Cornea, recommends introducing a nation-wide screening programme to help reduce the prevalence of keratoconus and treat sufferers earlier to reduce the need for cornea transplants.

Want to know more?

To read the full article follow this link

https://journals.lww.com/corneajrnl/Abstract/2019/11000/Keratoconus_Prev...