Exposure to prenatal alcohol can result in a number of functional impairments, including ophthalmological abnormalities such as ptosis, refractive errors, strabismus, subnormal visual acuity and optic nerve hypoplasia. In those diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), such ophthalmic abnormalities often result in visual perception problems (VPPs). A recent study investigated VPPs as well as health- and vision-related quality of life in young adults and found that this population had both more VPPs and lower quality of life scores than healthy controls.

The study included 30 young adults with FASD (mean age 23, 13 female) and 29 healthy controls (mean age 25, 20 female). The researchers assessed five areas of VPPs with medical history and administered the Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory (PedsQL) and the 25-Item Vision Function Questionnaire (VFQ-25) to assess health- and vision-related quality of life.

They found that 16 of 30 (53%) FASD patients reported VPPs in at least one area, a finding that was only observed in one out of 29 controls (3%). These patients reported having a similar rate of VPPs in childhood as well as in early adulthood (8/27 and 15/27, respectively). In terms of health-related quality of life, FASD patients had lower PedsQL scores than controls; they also reported lower VFQ-25 scores for vision-related quality of life.

“One common area of VPPs reported by participants with FASD was problems with orientation,” the researchers wrote in their paper. “Some of the participants said that they never visited other cities without a companion, and others did not want to leave their hometown at all. These participants reported VPPs in childhood as well as in early adulthood; thus, not all have been able to find ways to cope with their difficulties. We hypothesize that the growing child is faced with increasing environmental demands, increasing the impact of VPPs with age.”

The researchers concluded that young adults with FASD have worse quality of life and more visual perception problems than healthy controls. “In the FASD group, VPPs were found in half of the young adults and a third of the participants in childhood, showing that these problems might be present in children with FASD as well as in early adulthood.”

Gyllencreutz E, Aring E, Landgren V, et al. Visual perception problems and quality of life in young adults with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Acta Ophthalmologica. May 6, 2021. [Epub ahead of print].