Childhood Glaucoma: Everything You Need to Know

Glaucoma is an eye disease where fluid pressure inside a person’s eyes gradually builds up and is unable to properly drain. The built-up fluid pressure damages the optic nerve, which is the bundle of nerve fibers connecting the retina to the brain. When the optic nerve is damaged, it can cause vision loss.

There are several types of glaucoma. Similarly, there are also different types of glaucoma surgery and treatment. In this article, we’ll take a look at childhood glaucoma, a type of glaucoma that affects infants and children.

Types of Glaucoma in Children Based on Age

Childhood glaucoma itself has different types. They are categorized based on the age of the child during the onset of the disease.

Primary congenital glaucoma presents itself at the birth of the child. Meanwhile, infantile glaucoma manifests when the child is one to 24 months of age. When the child’s symptoms appear when he or she is two years and above, the diagnosis could be that of juvenile glaucoma.

Types of Glaucoma in Children Based on Cause

The categories above are primarily based on the patient’s age. On the other hand, glaucoma can also be distinguished based on the cause.

Glaucoma can be a result of an abnormality in the eye structure. It can also be caused by a related medical condition or problem.

If the glaucoma cannot be attributed to a medical condition or problem, it is classified as a primary congenital glaucoma, which is also the type of childhood glaucoma present at birth. This is a relatively rare condition, affecting 1 in 10,000 babies. Parents often bring their babies to an ophthalmologist or consult a pediatrician when they notice eye abnormalities. These abnormalities may include the following:

  • Excessive tearing
  • Light sensitivity
  • Excessive blinking
  • The round, dark part of the eye looks bigger than usual
  • The cornea appears cloudy or opaque

Meanwhile, when glaucoma is caused by a related medical condition, it is generally classified as secondary glaucoma. Some of the conditions that can lead to secondary glaucoma in children include the following:

  • Diseases that affect the eyes or the entire body – Some of the disorders that can cause child glaucoma are Sturge-Weber syndrome, Axenfeld-Rieger syndrome, neurofibromatosis, and aniridia.
  • Physical trauma – Glaucoma can be caused by physical trauma from a childhood injury. Often, glaucoma arising from trauma does not become apparent until the child grows older. This is why it’s necessary for children with a history of eye trauma to be checked for glaucoma.
  • Eye disorders – Glaucoma can also be caused by other eye conditions suffered in childhood. For instance, if a child has been diagnosed with congenital cataracts that have been removed, they become susceptible to glaucoma. Children who use steroid eye drops to treat eye inflammation due to juvenile rheumatoid arthritis may develop glaucoma as well.


Diagnosing Glaucoma in Children

Aside from investigating about the child’s medical history, an ophthalmologist may also perform other tests to determine whether the child is suffering from glaucoma. These tests include:

  • Visual acuity test
  • Pupil dilation
  • Visual field test
  • Tonometry

Older children who can already cooperate with the doctor may be tested using standard testing equipment. Meanwhile, eye doctors often test younger children with hand-held instruments. However, regardless of the child’s age, it is crucial for parents to encourage and support their children during the tests.

Treating Glaucoma in Children

Swift and immediate treatment is vital in ensuring that a child’s glaucoma doesn’t lead to the worst-case scenario, which is blindness. An ophthalmologist or eye doctor will determine the best treatment depending on several factors, including:

  • The seriousness of the disease
  • The child’s age, health, and medical history
  • The child’s tolerance to procedures and medications
  • The parents or guardians’ preference

Treatment options include:

  • Medications to lower eye pressure
  • Traditional glaucoma surgery
  • Modern laser-based glaucoma surgeries

Both medication and surgery have been used to successfully treat glaucoma in children. By consulting and working with an experienced eye doctor or ophthalmologist, parents and guardians can save the eyesight of their children who may have glaucoma.

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