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Symptoms of Childhood Glaucoma

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Symptoms of childhood glaucoma vary. In some cases, children will show no symptoms. Usually, there will be a gradual onset of glaucoma-related problems.

Symptoms can include:

  • light sensitivity (photophobia)
  • corneal opacification (hazy gray cornea)
  • enlarged eye and cornea
  • epiphora (overflow of tears)
  • vision loss

A cloudy cornea is the earliest and most common sign of childhood glaucoma. The healthy cornea is transparent. The loss of this transparency is caused by edema, or swelling of tissue from excess fluid. This occurs in the corneal epithelium (outermost layer of the cornea) and in the corneal stroma (middle layer of the corneal tissue). Careful inspection of the cornea may also reveal defects in its inner layer, which is further proof of a raised eye pressure (IOP).

In most cases of glaucoma affecting children under three years of age, the cornea and eye enlarges. Review of early photographs of your child may reveal the presence of glaucoma months before the diagnosis was actually made.

In addition to eye problems, secondary systemic (body) symptoms may occur. These secondary symptoms are especially common with acute glaucoma. Examples include irritability, loss of appetite, and vomiting. These symptoms may be misunderstood before the glaucoma is recognized. Young children with glaucoma are often unhappy, fussy, and poor eaters.

A slow chronic increase in eye pressure is probably not painful. In contrast, there is discomfort and pain when the eye pressure increases rapidly during an acute onset or with the rapid return of glaucoma following unsuccessful glaucoma surgery. Lowering high eye pressure relieves these painful symptoms quickly.

Last reviewed on December 22, 2020

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