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Glaucoma Can Affect Babies, Too

In U.S., one in 10,000 infants is born with the vision-robbing disease
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Goree said she became concerned when she noticed her newborn's eyes had a "hazy, bluish-gray color." A pediatrician initially told her to not to worry, but Goree decided to take him to Loyola. That's where ophthalmologist Dr. Cathleen Cronin diagnosed Christian with glaucoma.

Infant glaucoma "is a completely different entity than glaucoma in adults," said Dr. Tamiesha Frempong, a pediatric ophthalmologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

While the precise underlying cause is usually unknown, congenital glaucoma involves a developmental flaw in the structures that normally allow fluid to drain from the eye. That fluid buildup then stretches certain immature tissues in infants' eyes.

"The cornea gets so big, there can end up being 'breaks' in the back of the cornea," Frempong said. The cornea is the normally clear outer layer of the eye. In an infant with congenital glaucoma, it starts to take on a hazy appearance.

But to parents, Frempong noted, an infant's enlarged, cloudy corneas can simply look like "big, beautiful blue eyes."

There are other glaucoma red flags, though -- which actually appear before the cornea enlarges, Medow said.

Frempong described them as the classic "triad" of symptoms: eyelid spasms, sensitivity to light and excessive tearing. But again, it can be easy for parents, or even their pediatrician, to attribute those symptoms to something else -- like "colic," Frempong said.

She said the bottom line for parents is that, if they think something is wrong with their baby's eyes, and their pediatrician has "any doubt" about the cause, see a pediatric ophthalmologist.

"The earlier we find it, the better it is for the child," Medow said.

With infant glaucoma, the treatment is almost always prompt surgery. There are different types, and repeat procedures are often necessary, Medow said.

Christian received a type of surgery where tiny silicone tubing is implanted in the eyes. The device is regulated by a valve and allows fluid to drain from the eye.

"I was scared," Goree said. "I thought, 'You want to do surgery on my baby?' "

But she says Christian, now 18 months old, is doing well -- though he does need glasses to correct the vision loss he sustained. "He's running around, and has lots of energy," Goree said.

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