How Albinism Can Affect Your Child's Eyes

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Although albinism, which is an inherited disorder, can affect a child's eyes and vision, the effects individual children suffer vary. Vision impairment can range from mild to severe, with some children having no serious vision problems while other children meet the definition of legal blindness. But since vision is a contributing factor to helping your child's brain develop and grow, it's important to understand more about albinism's possible effects on the eyes and what you can do to help.

How can albinism affect a child's vision?

Because albinism is characterized by less pigment (melanin) in the skin, hair, and eyes, children with albinism often have poor central vision due to an underdeveloped fovea, which can reduce sharpness of vision. The lack of pigment in the eye to absorb light also makes a child highly sensitive to light. Less pigment in the iris and retina lets more light into the eye, which can cause blurred vision—the inability to see fine detail—along with photophobia.

Many children with albinism have nystagmus, which can lead to blurry vision or lazy eye. These involuntary eye movements from side to side or up and down sometimes improve or go away as a child gets older. But children for whom nystagmus remains a problem often tilt their heads in an effort to see more clearly.

Reduced visual acuity is another potential vision problem in children with albinism due to misrouting of the nerve signals that travel from the eye's optic nerve to the brain. In children with albinism, the retina fails to develop properly during the fetal stage and in infancy. This leads to vision problems since the retina, which is located at the back of the eye, converts light into the nerve signals that the optic nerve carries to the brain.

What help is available to improve a child's vision?

Eyeglasses can help a child see more clearly, especially when refractive errors reduce visual acuity. If your child needs prescription lenses because of problems reading due to trouble seeing smaller print, books with larger size print and words spaced more widely can help. Bright lighting and black print on a white background are other factors that can make reading easier.

If your child is particularly sensitive to bright light that causes squinting and interferes with his or her vision, an eye doctor may recommend photochromic lenses that reduce glare by changing from clear to dark when exposed to bright light. Having your child wear a wide-brimmed hat when they're playing outside also helps to block sunlight from their eyes.

Even playing with toys can be difficult for a child who has vision problems. But you can help enhance your visually-impaired child's play experience by placing a single toy on a plain background. Otherwise, your child may have trouble distinguishing toys of different sizes and colors when playing with them on a patterned background such as printed carpeting or vinyl flooring. 

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