Glaucoma Awareness Month: Don’t Let Your Child Be Blindsided

Many eye care professionals and other experts are lighting up the Twitterverse using the handle #GlaucomaAwareness this January during the namesake month of education and information regarding this debilitating disease. According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation (GRF), “Parents are the first line of defense,” against youth contracting this incurable condition.

While many associate glaucoma with the elderly and though rare in infants (1 in every 10,000 births) and children, it can still lead to permanent vision loss or even blindness if left undiagnosed. Although there’s no known cure for glaucoma, early detection and treatment options can prevent further damage to young eyesight.

 

A GROWING PROBLEM

The GRF tells us that glaucoma is on the rise, affecting more than 3 million people in the United States alone. Estimated projections see a growth of up to 4.2 million by 2030, a 58 percent increase. It’s also estimated that 4.5 million people worldwide are already blind due to this disease and people can permanently lose up to 40 percent of their vision before they even show symptoms or notice a change in their eyesight.

 

ROBBING YOUNG VISION

Glaucoma is often called “the silent thief of sight,” because it slowly causes damage to the optic nerve that can lead to irreparable damage before it is diagnosed leading to the
number one cause of preventable blindness worldwide. The key word here is “preventable,” since there’s no cure, parents should be on the lookout for early warning signs in these two types of glaucoma found in youngsters:

Congenital (or Infantile) Glaucoma – usually diagnosed during infancy

  • Unusually large eyes
  • Excessive tearing aside from crying
  • Hiding from bright light or squinting
  • Clouding in or around the cornea

Juvenile (or Secondary) Glaucoma – can occur anytime during childhood

  • A loss in vision or poor eyesight
  • Headaches or eye pain
  • Light sensitivity or trouble adjusting to darkness
  • Consistently red or irritated eyes

 

REGULAR EYE EXAMINATIONS

The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends children have comprehensive eye examinations according to thefollowing schedule:

  • At six months
  • At three years
  • Before entering school ages 4-6
  • Every two years thereafter

Although most schools offer regular eye exams, they aren’t comprehensive enough to diagnose such diseases as glaucoma, which can only be spotted with complete eye dilation by a qualified specialist.

HIGHER RISK

If an optometrist or ophthalmologist spots a problem or suspects a child may be at a greater risk for developing glaucoma or other eye issues, they’ll likely recommend a yearly examination. Those who may be more prevalent for contracting glaucoma include youth:

  • Who are genetically predisposed with a family history of glaucoma.
  • With head or eye injuries that can lead to traumatic glaucoma, which may present immediately or could lay dormant for days, months or even years.
  • Of African, Asian and Hispanic descent.

For example, statistics show that glaucoma is more aggressive in African Americans, who are three times more likely to contract the disease than their Caucasian counterparts. The GRF found that 75 percent of Hispanics afflicted with glaucoma didn’t even know they had the condition and 76 percent of them were unaware their heritage put them at a greater risk. Acute angle-closure glaucoma is more common in Asian cultures and among Americans of Asian descent simply due to the shape of their eyes.

While the GRF continues to search for a cure, parents can still ensure their children aren’t blindsided by glaucoma and other vision concerns through continued awareness, education, and prevention. Do your homework so your children can continue to pass their eye exams with flying colors.

Article by Amy Kristine Williams – mother of two, social worker, and positive parenting advocate.