What Are the Causes of Vision Loss? What Puts a Child at Risk?
Some babies are born blind or with severe vision loss. This can be caused by many different things, including abnormalities in the development of the eye or injury to eye structures from things like prematurity related retinopathy or infections or by developmental problems or injury to the parts of the brain responsible for vision. Some of the factors placing an infant, toddler, or child at significant risk for visual impairment include:
There are many causes of vision loss. Some cause more severe loss than others. One of the most common conditions is known as retinopathy of prematurity (ROP).
Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP): is an eye problem that occurs mainly in babies born before 31 weeks of pregnancy. About 90 percent of all infants with ROP are in the milder category and do not need treatment. However, infants with more severe disease can develop impaired vision or even blindness. About 1,100-1,500 infants annually develop ROP that is severe enough to require surgical treatment. About 400-600 infants each year in the U.S. become legally blind from ROP. Some other conditions that cause vision loss at the time of birth or in infancy include:
Neurological Visual Impairment: this is also known as cortical visual impairment or cortical blindness. Causes include anything that affects the visual pathways in the brain such as sustained congenital brain infections, traumatic and anoxic brain injury. The eyes are normal but the visual processing areas of the brain that interprets incoming visual information, is abnormal. This is the cause for visual impairment in up to 21% of children. Vision is affected in different ways and different visual tasks are affected in each individual case. Some improvement can occur in the first few years of life, and vision often fluctuates. There is no specific treatment other than vision and other early intervention services to optimize the child’s use of his residual vision. Some children develop vision problems after they are born. One of the most serious conditions – but fortunately rare – is called retinoblastoma.
Retinoblastoma: is a rare cancer of the retina. The retina is the innermost layer of the eye, located at the back of the eye that receives light and images necessary for vision. About 250 children in the US are diagnosed with this type of cancer each year. It mostly occurs in children under the age of 5; the highest incidence of the disease occurs between infancy and age 2. Both males and females are affected equally. Retinoblastoma can occur in either eye; however, in about 25 to 30 percent of the cases, the tumor is present in both eyes.
Other common conditions are milder and although they may cause some visual impairment, there are treatments which can help.
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Want to learn more about vision loss?
American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus
FamilyConnect (For Parents of Children with Visual Impairments)
Prevent Blindness America
The Association for Retinopathy of Prematurity and Related Diseases