According to the GRF (Glaucoma Research Foundation), January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month and this dangerous disease is often called “the silent thief of sight.” Although many associate this condition with the elderly, some children are also at risk for developing this debilitating condition that can lead to permanent vision loss and blindness if left undiagnosed and untreated.
There are two types of glaucoma that can affect our younger population:
- Congenital Glaucoma (also known as Infantile Glaucoma) usually diagnosed during the first year of life
- Juvenile Glaucoma (or Secondary Glaucoma) that can occur at anytime during childhood
While knowledge is key, other risk factors include genetics and heritage. For example, according to some GFR studies, those of African, Asian and Hispanic descent are diagnosed more often and those with a family history of glaucoma are also at a greater risk.
Traumatic Glaucoma can also be contracted due to a blow to the head or direct injury to the eye, which can include penetration or a simple bruise. Prescribed treatment with steroids (or later abuse of these drugs in association with sports) has also been linked to developing glaucoma.
Children that fall into any of these categories should have a complete examination, including dilation of both their eyes, every other year, preferably annually by an eyecare professional.
Since there is no known cure for glaucoma, early detection, diagnosis and treatment options offer the only known solutions for dealing with this disease. Often there are no signs or symptoms for those with glaucoma, still parents should be on the lookout for these types of issues that could be associated with contracting eye conditions like glaucoma:
- A gradual loss in vision or poor eyesight
- Sensitivity to the light and/or difficulty adjusting to darkness
- Excessive tearing
- Squinting, rubbing and/or itchy eyes
- Hiding from the light by squeezing the eyelids
- Headaches and/or eye pain
- Consistent redness of the eyes
- Clouding in and around the cornea
Older children will obviously be able to describe some of these conditions better than infants especially when it comes to pain and eyesight, so parents should be extra vigilant with newborns and toddlers. Another condition common with those diagnosed with Infantile or Congenital cases is eyes that appear larger than normal. Any of these circumstances is reason to have your child examined by a professional ophthalmologist immediately.
According to the AOA (American Optometric Association), the recommended schedule for having pediatric eye exams should occur:
- At six months of age
- At three years old
- Before entering school (from four to six-years-of-age)
- Every two years thereafter
While schools offer regular eye examinations to most children, these are not comprehensive enough to spot conditions like glaucoma that can only be recognized with complete eye dilation.
For those at higher risk from hereditary or other conditions, your eyecare professional will adjust this schedule accordingly. They will likely recommend annual eye examinations other than those performed every other year as noted above.
Although there is no known cure for glaucoma, research is ongoing and parents can do their part in the successful preservation of their child’s valuable vision. If parents have any reason to suspect there is something wrong with their child’s eyesight, early diagnosis and treatment offer the best defense in preventing vision loss.