You may be familiar with Albinism, a genetic condition that affects the skin and hair, making them extremely light colored or white. However, ocular albinism is a different type of the genetic mutation that affects the eyes. It creates low vision and that is why it is of special concern to us. We work with patients who have ocular albinism and provide them with the medical devices necessary to enhance low vision and the ability to participate in everyday activities.
Ocular albinism reduces vision because it reduces the coloring, or pigment, of the iris, which is necessary for normal vision. It also affects the function of the retina that provides central vision. Estimates of how many people have ocular albinism vary. Some say that the most common form of ocular albinism is type 1, also called Nettleship-Falls, that affects one in every 60,000 males. Other estimates say that one in every 20 thousand to 50 thousand people have the genetic mutation. The condition is much less common in females because ocular albinism is caused by a mutation in the X chromosome that occurs almost exclusively in males.
Ocular albinism impairs vision permanently in two ways:
1. It affects sharpness of vision
2. Creates difficulty combining vision from both eyes for depth perception
This can create problems with distance vision and problems playing sports. It may also pose problems in getting a driver’s license. In many states, 20/70 vision corrected is necessary to drive. Ocular albinism can reduce visual acuity anywhere from 20/30 to 20/400. We provide medical devices that, in some cases, can enhance low vision created by ocular albinism to a level accepted for driving in some states (vision levels vary by state).
People with ocular albinism may suffer with other eye problems that can include:
• Involuntary, rapid eye movements in which the eyes move back and forth (sometimes called pendular movements)
• Eyes may be crossed
• Increased sensitivity to bright light
• Abnormalities in the optic nerves
Ocular albinism is not a progressive disease. In other words, it does not cause vision to worsen progressively over the course of time. In fact, as the brain matures, some children can learn to improve their visual acuity as they learn to read letters and recognize objects.
When is ocular albinism diagnosed?
If the condition exists in other family members, parents of newborns may be able to detect vision issues shortly after birth. Subtle nystagmus, or involuntary eye movements, may be noticed three to eight weeks after birth. However, other symptoms such as reduced visual acuity and increased sensitivity to sunlight may not be noticed until the child is older and can articulate his or her vision difficulties.
When children are older, usually between 7 and 9 years of age, a test called a Visually Evoked Potential (VEP) is conducted. It is much like an EEG, or brain wave test, in that it shows the “differences in transmission from each eye to each side of the brain”.
Can prescription glasses or contact lenses correct ocular albinism?
No, they cannot. The disease affects the retina, the part of the eye that takes a picture of objects and then transmits the picture over the optical nerve to the brain for translation. When the retina cannot take the picture, the picture cannot be adjusted. In addition, the condition affects the operation of the optic nerve, so messages are not sent to the brain accurately from the eyes.
We specialize in enhancing low vision, even when the retina is impaired. When conditions such as ocular albinism or eye diseases like macular degeneration reduce central vision, we provide advanced medical devices to enhance remaining vision.
• IrisVision is the most advanced technology available today. It employs software that uses a 16 MP camera to magnify the central field of vision. The screen displays 10X more pixels per inch than an HD TV with a wide 70-degree field of view.
• Microscope and telescope lenses improve upon the individual’s prescription lenses and magnify them far beyond the capability of standard lenses.
These devices can be used in combination with other technologies to expand the lived environment for those living with low vision caused by eye diseases.
If you or a loved one suffer with ocular albinism or other conditions that create low vision, call us. Every day we work with patients who have been told that nothing more can be done to enhance their vision. Every day we provide them with advanced technology that expands their environment and their ability to participate in everyday activities of life.