Background. The eye is a sensitive indicator of adverse effects of prenatal alcohol exposure. Anomalies of the eyes and their adnexa are known to be associated with the fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), although long-term effects of these malformations are unknown.

Design. A prospective ophthalmologic follow-up (median, 11 years; range, 4 to 19 years) was performed in 25 children with FAS. Their social situation and educational status were also investigated.

Results. All but one of the children had ophthalmologic abnormalities. Fundus anomalies were observed in 23 children, of whom 19 had optic nerve hypoplasia. Thirteen children had concomitant strabismus. Microphthalmos, buphthalmos, phthisis, microcornea, coloboma of the iris and uvea, blepharoptosis, cataract, persistent hyperplastic primary vitreous, and nystagmus were observed in single cases. The dysmorphology of the eyes remained unchanged during the follow-up period. In 2 children with severe mental retardation and, initially, very poor vision, the severe visual handicap persisted. Seventeen children had an initial visual acuity ≥20/70, which remained unchanged in 10 children and improved in 7 children, despite the presence of optic nerve hypoplasia in 14 of the children. Ten mothers died, 8 of them because of alcohol-related diseases, and only 4 of the mothers were able to take care of their children. Sixteen children went to schools for the mentally retarded, and only 3 children had a normal school education without extra teaching assistance.

Conclusions. In children with FAS, the major sequela, ie, brain damage, remains despite extensive medical, educational, and social support. The presence of ophthalmic signs, which persisted but did not deteriorate during the follow-up period, strengthens the diagnosis of FAS, and the high frequency of ocular involvement indicates the importance of a complete ophthalmologic evaluation in children with FAS.

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