If you think glaucoma only strikes adults, think again. Even infants can be affected by this potentially blinding disease.
In both children and adults, glaucoma develops when increased pressure inside the eye damages the optic nerve, leading to vision loss. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world. It is estimated that more than 4 million Americans have glaucoma, but only half that number know it.
Childhood glaucoma affects about one of every 10,000 children born in the United States, typically at birth or within the first year of life. It is slightly more common in boys than girls. In about 70 percent of cases, it affects both eyes. Some childhood glaucoma can run in families. It can also occur in association with other abnormalities, such as infantile cataracts (lens clouding).
When high pressure develops inside the eye before age 3, the wall of the young eye is more elastic and can expand. The pressure also causes clouding of the cornea (the clear surface of the eye), creating glare and light sensitivity. Symptoms of childhood glaucoma include enlarged eyes, a hazy cornea, excessive tearing and a preference for low light conditions. These symptoms usually improve after the pressure is lowered.
In adults, medications or treatments are typically used to decrease fluid production or increase fluid drainage out of the eye. In more severe cases, surgery to create a new drainage passage may be necessary.
Glaucoma in children typically responds better to surgery than to medications or laser. A simple outpatient surgery called a goniotomy can provide a cure for some kids. In goniotomy, a small incision is made in the drainage system to improve fluid flow out of the eye. When goniotomy alone is not successful, adult drainage procedures can be performed.
Childhood glaucoma is easier to detect than the adult form of the disease, and the success rate of glaucoma surgery in kids is very high. When childhood glaucoma is diagnosed and treated early, these kids usually enjoy good vision and lead full lives.
Untreated glaucoma causes permanent damage to the optic nerve, creating blind spots or complete loss of vision. However, even when a child is left with visual impairment, there is still much to be done.
Many resources for education and support are available to help make the most of limited sight. Visually Impaired Preschool Services (VIPS) is a group in Central Kentucky that provides many programs and services. Find more information on the Web at www.vips.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Classroom tips for visually impaired children
■ To avoid glare, teach your child to sit with his or her back to the windows or other bright light.
■ Educational material should be presented against a simple background. Keep the work area uncluttered.
■ Talk with the teacher about flexible seating, especially if visual props are used. That may mean moving closer to the front of the class. It is helpful to provide children with paper copies of any material that has been presented with a projector.
■ Encourage the use of materials with high contrast, bold writing and large fonts.
■ During outdoor activities, teach your child to use sunglasses and hats. Light sensitivity can still be a problem on overcast days.
■ Protective goggles are recommended for contact sports.
■ Plans need to be individualized for each child. In some situations, a closed circuit television is best for enlarging print.
■ Develop a support system with your family and friends. Also, look into community groups and agencies for additional information. Teachers, occupational therapists, and low vision specialists can all be excellent resources.