The Ireland Eye Study

Health and Well-being

The Ireland Eye Study

Project synopsis

Refractive error is a Vision 2020 priority area, identified by the World Health Organisation as the second leading cause of blindness, and the principal cause of global visual impairment. An estimated 15 million children worldwide suffer due to uncorrected refractive error (Gilbert and Foster, 2001).
Established in 2015, the Ireland Eye Study is an epidemiological study which involved 1,626 schoolchildren in Ireland. The study aims were to report the prevalence of refractive error and visual impairment; investigate relationships between vision and demographic and lifestyle variables; and explore the impact of vision on children’s educational performance. Results from this study will inform public policy on the resources required for paediatric eye care services including the cost of providing spectacles.

Ten years of collaboration with socioeconomically disadvantaged schools in Dublin 8 on community outreach clinics involving final year optometry students testing schoolchildren’s eyes demonstrated significant unmet eye care needs, which provided the impetus for this research. In addition, the National Optometry Centre’s waiting list was closed due to over subscription. The Ireland Eye study involved engaging with school principals, teachers, special needs assistants, home school liaison officers, parents/ legal guardians and study participants from 37 randomly selected schools in Ireland, to generate extensive data which could be used to advocate for policy and funding changes in eye care.

The Ireland Eye Study examined 1,626 participants (881 boys, 745 girls) in two age groups, 6–7 years (728) and 12–13 years (898), in Ireland, and on school premises between June 2016 and January 2018. Participating schools were selected by stratified random sampling, representing a mix of school type (primary/ post-primary, location (urban/rural) and socioeconomic status (disadvantaged/advantaged).
Examination included vision assessment (with spectacles if worn), colour vision, stereo vision and refractive error assessment. Ocular biometric parameters and participant height and weight were recorded. Parents/legal guardians completed a questionnaire to ascertain participants’ lifestyle.

The outputs of phase one (2015-2018) are as follows:

  • 500,000 data points
  • The first reviewed publication in the British Medical Journal of Ophthalmology reported visual impairment and associated factors in schoolchildren in Ireland. Traveller and non-white children were significantly more likely to be visually impaired suggesting barriers to accessing eye health care exist.
  • The second peer reviewed publication in the British Medical Journal of Ophthalmology reported myopia (short-sightedness) to be associated with obesity, increased screen time and less time outdoors. Public health education programmes addressing lifestyle factors associated with myopia are essential as myopia is now the leading cause of blindness among working age people in Europe (Wong et al., 2014; Holden et al., 2016).
  • Presently collaborating with Ulster University on comparing the prevalence of amblyopia (lazy eye) in schoolchildren in Ireland with children in Northern Ireland. Two genetically similar populations with similar refractive error profiles (Harrington, 2018), but different health systems.

The Ireland Eye Study outcomes are as follows

  • Collaboration with Ulster University to produce a report detailing schoolchildren’s visual and eye care requirements.
  • As expansions in community-based eye-care delivery have been recommended in Ireland, (Murphy, 2017) up-to-date prevalence data are necessary.
  • The prevalence data from this study provides valuable information on the magnitude of uncorrected refractive error, population groups and age cohorts most in need of intervention, and, also provides the basis from which interventions such as the provision of spectacles can be evaluated. The results will inform the public health budgetary requirements for paediatric eye-care in Ireland as well as briefing potential future public health and social care costs associated with ocular morbidity due to ocular conditions associated with myopia and hyperopia.

Economic, Policy and Public Service, Societal engagement, health and wellbeing, professional services, new knowledge.


Technological University Dublin

Funding source:

Technological University Dublin, Irish Opticians Board, Irish Association of Optometrists.

Academic Contact:

Siofra Harrington,
School of Physics and Clinical and Optometric Sciences,
Technological University Dublin,
City Centre Campus
Kevin Street Lower,
Dublin 8.
Eircode: D08 XH59