Low Birth Weight Tied to Altered Eye Anatomy in Adulthood

By David Douglas

March 05, 2019

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Low birth weight appears to increase the chances of having thinner central cornea and other ocular anomalies in adulthood, according to a new study from Germany.

"With our data we provide new insight into the long-term effects of low birth weight, suggesting that prenatal growth development and associated factors are linked to alterations in ocular geometry that persist beyond childhood," Dr. Achim Fiess of Johannes Gutenberg University, in Mainz, told Reuters Health by email.

The link between low birth weight and altered ocular development in childhood has already been established, but there have been no population-based studies about a possible association in adulthood, Dr. Fiess and colleagues note in JAMA Ophthalmology, online February 21.

To investigate, the researchers examined data on a German population-based cohort study, in which all participants underwent ocular biometry. They focused on more than 11,000 eyes in 7,120 subjects with self-reported birth weight.

Overall, 382 participants reported a low birth weight (less than 2,500 g). The remainder reported normal or high birth weights. Their age was from 40 and 80 years during follow-up between 2012 and 2017.

After adjustment, a significant association was found between a lower birth weight and steeper corneal curvature. This was also the case for a smaller white-to-white distance, thinner central corneal thickness and shorter axial length.

However, data from 10,510 eyes of 5,279 participants with phakia showed no association between low birth weight and anterior chamber depth and lens thickness.

The researchers concede that "the findings could not be controlled for retinopathy of prematurity and its treatment, which may affect the outcomes."

However, Dr. Fiess pointed out, "Overall, altered ocular geometry is a risk factor for the main eye diseases leading to visual impairment and blindness in industrialized countries. Future work is planned to evaluate whether participants with low birth weight have an increased risk for these diseases."

Dr. Michael F. Chiang, a professor of ophthalmology and medical informatics and clinical epidemiology at Oregon Health & Science University, in Portland, told Reuters Health by email, "It is known that low birth weight is associated with changes in ocular morphology during childhood, but far less is known about what happens during adulthood."

Dr. Chiang, who was not involved in the new work, said it "addresses that gap in knowledge by showing that these changes do indeed persist into adulthood, particularly involving the association of low birth weight with steeper corneal curvature, thinner central corneas, and shorter axial lengths."

SOURCE: https://bit.ly/2UdPqXf

JAMA Ophthalmol 2019.