Although it is most common in adults over 55, glaucoma can also develop in children. This type of glaucoma can be referred to either as childhood glaucoma or as pediatric glaucoma, and it can develop at different ages in early childhood. While most forms of glaucoma do not have a known cause, childhood glaucoma is suspected to be caused by incorrect development of the eye drainage system before birth, which leads to increased pressure within the eye. Since glaucoma has no known cure, the key to halting childhood glaucoma is early diagnosis and treatment. This World Glaucoma Week, learn about childhood glaucoma signs, symptoms, types, and treatment.
What Is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that cause damage to the optic nerve, often through increased pressure within the eye. Untreated glaucoma can lead to permanent vision loss. There are several types of glaucoma and different categorizations. Glaucoma can be split into two main groups:
- Primary glaucoma is an isolated, spontaneous development in the anterior chamber of the eye. It is also called open-angle glaucoma, as it is caused by the slow clogging of the drainage canals when there is a wide, open angle between the iris and the cornea. This is typically the most common type of glaucoma in both children and adults.
- Secondary glaucoma is associated with specific conditions or known causes, such as eye trauma, Axenfeld-Rieger Syndrome, aniridia, Sturge-Weber Syndrome, neurofibromatosis, chronic steroid use, or previous eye surgery. While people with any of these pre-existing conditions may not develop glaucoma, it does put them at higher risk.
While glaucoma typically develops in older adults, it can develop in children and can be classified based on the age of onset:
- Congenital glaucoma is present at birth
- Infantile glaucoma develops between 1 and 24 months
- Juvenile glaucoma begins after age 3
Signs And Symptoms
While glaucoma that develops later in life and juvenile glaucoma do not present symptoms until after damage to the optic nerve has begun, there are sometimes signs of congenital or infantile glaucoma. These can include:
- Unusually large eyes
- Excessive tearing
- Cloudy eyes
- Light sensitivity
- Optic nerve cupping
- Family history
While the damage done by glaucoma cannot be reversed, there are treatments available to slow or halt the progression of glaucoma to save the remaining eyesight. Surgeries and medications (both oral medications and eye drops) can be used to reduce the intraocular pressure (IOP) of the eye and save the optic nerve from further damage. Despite these treatments, childhood glaucoma can still cause vision impairment. Early testing and continuous monitoring through children’s eye exams are necessary to minimize the damage caused by pediatric glaucoma.
Book A Children’s Eye Exam At My Optometrist In Calgary Or Three Hills
While childhood glaucoma is rare, if it is not caught early it can cause severe visual impairment for a lifetime. Taking your child for a children’s eye exam with an experienced pediatric optometrist is crucial for the early detection and treatment of glaucoma and other childhood eye conditions. At My Optometrist in Calgary, our pediatric optometrists are available for glaucoma screenings and expert eye exams for both you and your little one. To receive glaucoma screening, book an eye exam at one of our three locations, either at Health First in SE Calgary, Sunridge in NE Calgary, or Three Hills, AB. You can also call us or fill out the online contact form.
Q: Is it common to develop glaucoma in childhood?
A: No, it is not. While it is possible and glaucoma screenings are necessary during children’s eye exams, childhood glaucoma only occurs in about every 1 in 10,000 births for those who do not have other eye conditions or have undergone eye surgery.
Q: When should my child go to the optometrist?
A: You should take your child for their first children’s eye exam when they are 6 months old. Another children’s eye exam is recommended again at 3 years old, and another at 5 years old. After that, it should be an annual routine. Once a person reaches young adulthood, at approximately 19 years of age, it may be advised to transition to bi-annual exams or as recommended by your optometrist.
Q: How do optometrists test for glaucoma?
A: Typically, optometrists use 5 different tests to determine glaucoma in adults:
Since various stages of childhood glaucoma develop before the child can effectively communicate, pediatric optometrists will rely on tests such as optical coherence tomography (OCT) scans so that they can observe within the eye instead of using tests that involve patient responses.