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When the ‘silent thief of sight’ strikes in children

Known as the silent thief of sight due to its slow and ‘silent’ progression, glaucoma is a common eye disease and a major cause of blindness in Australia and around the world. Although glaucoma is most prevalent in people over the age of 60, this sight-threatening condition can strike at any age and may even be present at birth. While uncommon, childhood glaucoma can not only impact a child’s vision but it can also have significant implications for their social development and mental wellbeing.

To mark this year’s World Glaucoma Week (12-18 March), the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) is reminding parents to have their children’s eyes checked regularly to ensure healthy vision.

“Glaucoma refers to a group of chronic eye diseases which cause damage to the optic nerve resulting in vision loss. Babies with glaucoma display specific signs that help diagnose glaucoma early on, if you know what you’re looking for and maintain an index of suspicion,” explained Dr Caroline Catt, a RANZCO Fellow and one of Australia’s leading Paediatric Ophthalmologists. “Early detection and proper treatment is instrumental as this can result in the reversal of some of the damage caused by childhood glaucoma and help delay the progression of the disease,” added Dr Catt.

Sydney mum, Mandy Ferreira, knows all too well about the devastating impact of childhood glaucoma. Her son, Darcy, was diagnosed with glaucoma in both eyes when he was only 11 months old. “I noticed a cloudiness in his eye and immediately rushed him to the doctor who referred us to Dr Catt,” said Mandy. Several painful surgeries and ongoing treatments saved Darcy from going blind. “We are extremely lucky that this was caught early on. We had never heard of childhood glaucoma before and, as a family, have learned that it is not an easy journey to travel. Darcy would have lost his vision had his condition been left untreated.”

“We cannot thank and give gratitude enough to Dr Catt. She has been more than amazing and has been behind the success of saving Darcy's vision. Without her, I dread to think what his life would be like now.”

Glaucoma signs in children present very differently when compared with adults. Some signs to look for in babies and young children are:
- Large eyes
- Cloudy eyes
- Watery eyes
- Excessive blinking
- Sensitivity to light

If you suspect your child has glaucoma or some other type of eye condition, please speak to your GP or paediatrician who may refer your child to a paediatric ophthalmologist (a medical eye doctor who specialises in children’s eye care) for further diagnosis and treatment.

For more information on children’s eye health, please also see our blog post How do I know if my child has vision problems? and How are children’s eyes assessed?

For further enquiries or to arrange an interview with one of our paediatric ophthalmologists, contact Emma Carr or Laura Safaj at RANZCO on 02 9690 1001 or at media@ranzco.edu.