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Safeguard Your Child’s Sight Against Pediatric Glaucoma

3 min read  |  August 20, 2018  | 

When you hear the word “glaucoma”, you are more likely to think of your grandmother than your active toddler. Relatively uncommon and harder to diagnose, pediatric glaucoma is easy to miss in babies and children. Unfortunately, the lack of widespread medical knowledge about this disease can lead to misdiagnosis and blindness for some children.

The problem is especially troubling in many other areas of the world, but also exists in the U.S., particularly among children of African American or Caribbean heritage. About one in 25,000 babies in the U.S. is born with congenital pediatric glaucoma and about one in 5,000 children develop secondary pediatric glaucoma. In both diseases, high fluid pressure inside the eye damages the optic nerve – the structure that sends signals from the eye to the brain. Left untreated, it can lead to permanent blindness.

The good news is, when caught early, the disease responds well to treatment. “With timely diagnosis and surgery, we often prevent blindness,” says Dr. Alana Grajewski, adding, “In fact, 80 to 90 percent of babies who undergo prompt surgery usually have good or nearly normal vision for life.” Dr. Grajewski is one of the world’s leading authorities on this disease and founder and director of the Samuel and Ethel Balkan International Pediatric Glaucoma Center at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. The center is the world’s only facility dedicated to this disease.

Early signs and risk factors

Even conscientious parents sometimes miss the indications of unusual health conditions, such as glaucoma. By understanding the signs and risk factors, you can better protect your kids. The disease is often genetic, but most children treated at Bascom Palmer have no family history of this condition. In babies, symptoms may include:

  • Excessive tearing
  • Light sensitivity
  • A large, cloudy cornea causing the eye to look dull or hazy

In older children, the disease usually progresses without noticeable symptoms, but occurs more often in children with one of the following conditions:

  • Aniridia
  • Axenfeld-Reiger Syndrome
  • Neurofibromatosis
  • Sturge-Weber Syndrome
  • Ongoing steroid use
  • Eye injury or prior eye surgery

Children with glaucoma also tend to be nearsighted, have lazy eye or crossed eyes. According to Dr. Grajewski, they will need regular eye checkups throughout their lives. “Glaucoma affects every part of the eye. Even once the pressure is stabilized, some visual defects may remain.” A pediatric ophthalmologist can help your child navigate these challenges with vision correction methods such as eyeglasses.

Partner with your doctors

To protect your child’s vision, make sure your pediatrician examines your baby’s eyes throughout the first year of life. If everything appears normal, your child should not need another eye exam until his or her fourth birthday and every two years after that.

Many parents worry about getting their child to cooperate during an eye exam. Many ophthalmologists, especially pediatric ophthalmologists, are trained to diagnose and treat this age group. Even better, they enjoy the rewards of working with babies and children.

If your child has glaucoma and you want to schedule an appointment at the Samuel and Ethel Balkan International Pediatric Glaucoma Center, click here or call 305-243-2020.


Nancy Moreland is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.  She has written for several major health care systems and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Her writing also appears in the Chicago Tribune.

Tags: Alana Grajewski, childhood blindness, childhood eye disease, pediatric glaucoma, pediatric ophthalmology, Samuel and Ethel Balkan International Pediatric Glaucoma Center

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