Significance: This study presents the relationship between distance visual acuity and a range of uncorrected refractive errors, a complex association that is fundamental to clinical eye care and the identification of children needing refractive correction. Purpose: This study aimed to analyze data from the Collaborative Longitudinal Evaluation of Ethnicity and Refractive Error Study to describe the relationship between distance uncorrected refractive error and visual acuity in children. Methods: Subjects were 2212 children (51.2% female) 6 to 14 years of age (mean ± standard deviation, 10.2 ± 2.1 years) participating in the Collaborative Longitudinal Evaluation of Ethnicity and Refractive Error Study between 2000 and 2010. Uncorrected distance visual acuity was measured using a high-contrast projected logMAR chart. Cycloplegic refractive error was measured using the Grand Seiko WR-5100K autorefractor. The ability of logMAR acuity to detect various categories of refractive error was examined using receiver operating characteristic curves. Results: Isoacuity curves show that increasing myopic spherical refractive errors, increasing astigmatic refractive errors, or a combination of both reduces distance visual acuity. Visual acuity was reduced by approximately 0.5 minutes of MAR per 0.30 to 0.40 D of spherical refractive error and by approximately 0.5 minutes of MAR per 0.60 to 0.90 D of astigmatism. Higher uncorrected hyperopic refractive error had little effect on distance visual acuity. Receiver operating characteristic curve analysis suggests that a logMAR distance acuity of 0.20 to 0.32 provides the best balance between sensitivity and specificity for detecting refractive errors other than hyperopia. Distance acuity alone was ineffective for detecting hyperopic refractive errors. Conclusions: Higher myopic and/or astigmatic refractive errors were associated with predictable reductions in uncorrected distance visual acuity. The reduction in acuity per diopter of cylindrical error was about half that for spherical myopic error. Although distance acuity may be a useful adjunct to the detection of myopic spherocylindrical refractive errors, accommodation presumably prevents acuity from assisting in the detection of hyperopia. Alternate procedures need to be used to detect hyperopia.
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