CHOC Children's

Childhood Glaucoma

Simulation photograph: normal vision
Simulation photograph: glaucoma

What is childhood glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a condition in which the normal fluid pressure inside the eyes (intraocular pressure, or IOP) slowly rises as a result of inadequate drainage. Instead, the fluid collects and causes pressure damage to the optic nerve (a bundle of more than 1 million nerve fibers that connects the retina with the brain) and loss of vision. In children, glaucoma may begin early in life (infantile) or develop later (childhood glaucoma).

What causes childhood glaucoma?

Glaucoma occurs when the fluid drainage from the eye is blocked by abnormal development or injury to the drainage tissues, thus, resulting in an increase in the intraocular pressure, damage to the optic nerve, and loss of vision.

There are many causes of childhood glaucoma. It can be hereditary or it can be associated with other eye disorders. If glaucoma cannot be attributed to any other cause, it is classified as primary. If glaucoma is a result of another eye disorder, eye injury, or other disease, it is classified as secondary.

How is childhood glaucoma diagnosed?

Diagnostic procedures for childhood glaucoma may include:

Picture of a standard eye chart
  • visual acuity test - the common eye chart test (with letters and images), which measures vision ability at a fixed distance.
  • pupil dilation - the pupil is widened with eyedrops to allow a close-up examination of the eye's retina and optic nerve.
  • visual field - a test to measure a child's side (peripheral) vision. Lost peripheral vision may be an indication of glaucoma.
  • tonometry - a standard test to determine the fluid pressure inside the eye.

Younger children may be examined with hand-held instruments, whereas older children are often examined with standard equipment that is used with adults. An eye examination can be difficult for a child. It is important that parents encourage cooperation. At times, the child may have to be examined under anesthesia, especially young children, in order to examine the eye and the fluid drainage system, and to determine the appropriate treatment.

What are the symptoms of childhood glaucoma?

Glaucoma is rare in children, as compared to the adult. Glaucoma can affect one eye or both.

The following are the most common symptoms of childhood glaucoma:

  • excessive tearing
  • light sensitivity (photophobia)
  • cloudy, enlarged cornea (large eye)
  • enlargement of the affected eye due to increased IOP
  • vision loss

If the eye pressure increases rapidly, there may be pain and discomfort. Parents may notice that the child becomes irritable, fussy, and develops a poor appetite. Early detection and diagnosis is very important to prevent loss of vision. The symptoms of glaucoma may resemble other eye problems or medical conditions. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

Treatment for glaucoma:

It is important for treatment of childhood glaucoma to start as early as possible. Treatment may include:

  • medications
    Some medications cause the eye to produce less fluid, while others lower pressure by helping fluid drain from the eye.
  • surgery
    Surgical procedures are performed by using microsurgery or lasers. The purpose of surgery is to create an opening for fluid to leave the eye. Surgical procedures used to treat glaucoma in children include the following:
    • trabeculotomy and goniotomy
      A surgical opening is made into the drainage area of the eye (known as the trabecular meshwork drainage system), therefore establishing a more normal anterior chamber angle that allows the fluid to drain more freely, lowering the intraocular pressure (IOP). A goniotomy is an internal trabeculotomy procedure that is used in congenital glaucoma.
    • trabeculectomy
      A surgical procedure that involves the removal of part of the trabecular meshwork drainage system, allowing the fluid to drain from the eye.
    • cyclophotocoagulation
      A procedure that uses a laser beam to coagulate selected areas of the ciliary body - the part of the eye that produces aqueous humor - to reduce the production of fluid. This type of surgery may be performed with severe cases of childhood glaucoma.

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It is important to remember the health information found on this website is for reference only not intended to replace the advice and guidance of your healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.

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