Glaucoma isn’t just for older adults, kids can get it, too. Children can inherit it from a parent, or they could develop it from an injury, disease, eye surgery or medication side effect. It’s rare for kids to have glaucoma, but for those that do get it there’s good news. While there’s no cure for glaucoma, it can be controlled with treatment and kids can go on to have a healthy, bright future.
Glaucoma is a condition that damages the eye’s optic nerve due to a buildup of pressure inside the eye. The optic nerve is the main nerve that carries signals from the eye to the brain, allowing us to see.
A healthy eye produces fluid to keep it clean and nourished, and then it slowly drains from the eye. In a child with glaucoma, the eye’s drainage system does not function properly. If fluid has nowhere to go, it can increase pressure in the eye. If left untreated, it can worsen over time and lead to optic nerve damage or even vision loss.
“Early detection and treatment are very important to prevent serious complications, such as vision loss,” said Nancy Hanna, MD, a pediatric ophthalmologist at Akron Children’s. “If you have a family history of glaucoma, regular comprehensive eye exams are important, even if your child is not complaining about any eye concerns. Glaucoma symptoms in children may not be as obvious compared to adults.”
Signs of glaucoma in kids
Glaucoma can occur at birth, or kids can develop it as they grow. If eye pressure increases rapidly, it can be painful and uncomfortable. So, your child may become irritable, fussy and stop eating well.
Babies might experience:
- Enlarged cornea or large eye
- A dull, cloudy eye or redness
- Excessive tearing, even when baby is not crying
- Sensitivity to light
- A lot of blinking
For older children, you might notice:
- Blurry vision
- Nearsightedness that gets worse
- Trouble seeing objects off to the side
How is glaucoma treated in kids?
For kids with glaucoma, the goal of treatment is to fix the eye so that more fluid drains out or less is produced to relieve eye pressure. Typically, eye drops or other medicine is used first to try and relieve the pressure in the eye. If medications don’t work, surgery is the best treatment.
Surgeons can open up the eye’s drainage canals or even create a new drainage system to drain fluid and lower the pressure.
After treatment, follow-up eye exams are necessary to test pressure in the eye. Some kids may need more than one treatment to keep pressure down and prevent eye damage.
Importance of regular eye exams in kids
For kids with glaucoma, complications can be more severe than adults. The best protection is regular eye exams, just like you schedule well checks and dentist appointments for your child. Eye diseases and vision problems often have better outcomes if caught early.
The American Optometric Association recommends children get a comprehensive eye exam before their first birthday, at least once between ages 3 and 5, again before they enter first grade, around age 6, and annually thereafter.
If you notice any signs of glaucoma or your child has never had a comprehensive eye exam, schedule an appointment with a pediatric ophthalmologist or optometrist. Don’t worry if your child can’t read or even identify letters yet. It’s not necessary for a complete exam.
“Eye pressure can change during puberty and at other times in a person’s life, so regular eye exams are vital,” said Dr. Hanna. “Even with vigilant parents, visual problems can still be missed without a comprehensive eye exam, which can determine the health of the eye, inside and out.”