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Guarding Against the ‘Sneak Thief of Sight’

December 13, 2013

Originally published Jan. 23, 2012

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, and an important time to spread the word about this sight-stealing disease, often called the “sneak thief of sight.” Ginny Jacobs, Senior Graphic Designer, Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) shared with PHWEEK her experience as the mother of a young girl who has had to see a Glaucoma specialist since she was six months old. This is Ginny’s story.

My daughter, Rylie, is your typical 6 year old little girl. She loves to draw and paint, play dress up with her two younger sisters and ride her bike. What most people don’t know is that Rylie was born with an uncommon condition, bilateral infantile cataracts, affecting only one in 10,000 infants.

We are extremely fortunate that her cataracts were discovered during her newborn screening by her pediatrician, Dr. Julia Gaines. Rylie’s complete diagnosis and cataract removal surgery was performed at Egleston Children’s Hospital in Atlanta by her Pediatric Ophthalmologist at Emory Eye Center, Dr. Scott Lambert.

Rylie was fitted with contact lenses at a month old after her cataracts were removed. Her father and I had to quickly learn and adapt to placing and removing her lenses every morning and night. One morning when Rylie was about six months old I noticed her right eye was enlarged when I was putting her contacts in. Needless to say, I panicked. I called Dr. Lambert immediately. We quickly found out that Rylie had increased pressure in her right eye and were introduced to Dr. Allen Beck, Section of Glaucoma Director at the Emory Eye Center.

Dr. Beck explained to us that there is a prevalence of glaucoma associated with infantile cataract surgery. Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions resulting in optic nerve damage, which causes loss of vision. Abnormally high pressure inside the eye usually, but not always, causes this damage. Although the most common forms primarily affect the middle-aged and the elderly, glaucoma can affect people of all ages.

So far the research and studies haven’t solved the mystery of why there is such a high prevalence associated with infantile cataract surgery and glaucoma, but fortunately the pressures in Rylie’s eyes are managed with prescription eye drops.

When Rylie was younger she would see Dr. Lambert and Dr. Beck every three months to monitor her pressures and routine eye exams to keep up with her vision prescriptions and contact fittings. Now she sees them both every six months. Rylie will always have to be monitored closely to manage and hopefully prevent glaucoma.

Glaucoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness, affecting about 2.2 million Americans, and over 60 million people worldwide. Experts estimate that half of them don’t know they have it. The best way to protect your sight from glaucoma is to get a comprehensive eye examination. Then, if you have glaucoma, treatment can begin immediately.