Ocular Albinism and Low Vision

Ocular Albinism and Low Vision

What is Ocular Albinism?

Albinism is a genetic disorder that results in the body’s inability to produce melanin, a dark pigment that protects our tissues from ultraviolet radiation (UV) and gives the eyes, skin, and hair their color.

Ocular albinism primarily affects the eyes, by reducing the coloring (pigmentation) in the eye, which is essential for normal vision.

Ocular albinism causes mild to moderate central vision impairment in most patients. While individuals with this disorder retain some vision, they may be legally blind. The most common form of ocular albinism is Type 1 or Nettleship-Falls. It affects at least 1 in 60,000 males but only a very small number of women. Women are the carriers of the gene mutations that cause the disorder.

While there is no cure for the condition, glasses, contacts, and low vision aids and devices can help those with the condition maximize their remaining vision and experience a much higher quality of life.

Contact an IALVS low vision eye doctor learn how we can help individuals with low vision live better, thanks an array of low vision aids, devices, and strategies.

What Are Characteristics of Ocular Albinism?

Ocular albinism mainly affects the eyes, while the skin and hair may show normal or near-normal coloration. For individuals that are born with this condition, any vision loss incurred at birth is permanent and does not deteriorate over time.

Ocular albinism causes a reduction in the coloring, or pigmentation, of the iris, the colored part of the eye, and the retina, the light-sensitive tissue located at the back of the eye. While most people with ocular albinism have light blue eyes, in some cases the blood vessels within the eyeball can become visible through the iris, leading the eyes to appear red or pink.

Signs & Symptoms of Ocular Albinism

Because of the lack of pigmentation in their eyes, individuals with ocular albinism will experience:

  • Extreme light sensitivity (photophobia)
  • Mild to moderate central vision loss
  • Rapid, involuntary eye movements (nystagmus)
  • Poor binocular vision (strabismus)
  • Reduced depth perception
  • The need to tilt one’s head in an unusual way to clearly see objects or surroundings

Low Vision Aids for Ocular Albinism

IALVS low vision eye doctors offer many types of low vision aids and low vision glasses to improve the lives of those with ocular albinism. Because each aid assists with different tasks, the low vision patient will most benefit from multiple low vision glasses and devices to accomplish goals.

Although people with ocular albinism experience central vision loss, they have excellent residual side vision. Therefore, they respond very well to low vision glasses and devices, particularly microscope and bioptic telescope lenses (small telescopes that are permanently mounted on prescription eyeglass lenses). These allow the patient to see people’s faces and objects at a distance, read the words on a chalkboard or a street sign and, in many cases, drive.

Those with ocular albinism often develop severe farsightedness or nearsightedness combined with astigmatism. While not a low vision device, most patients require prescription eyewear as it enables their eyes to see the clearest image possible, whether near, far, or both. In severe cases, telescopes/bioptic lenses, magnifiers, microscopes, and closed-circuit television systems (ideal for those requiring greater magnification than reading glasses, magnifiers, and microscopes can provide) may be prescribed.

If you or a loved one has ocular albinism, make sure he or she visits a low vision eye doctor. A low vision eye doctor will offer a comprehensive low vision eye evaluation, assess everyday struggles difficulties, and provide the most appropriate adaptive devices to help you or your loved one see better.

Ocular Albinism and Driving

Albinism patients tend to do very well with bioptic driving. Bioptic driving involves a bioptic telescopic system that allows patients to see signs and traffic lights at a distance. Patients using this device require extensive training to ensure that the bioptic is used safely and correctly.

Below is an inspiring success story:

The President of The International Academy, Dr. Richard Shuldiner, a Low Vision Optometrist, recently fit a 17-year-old young lady with bioptic telescope glasses for driving. The patient, Mia Z., remarked when she put on the glasses: “ oh my gosh, I can see your face clearly! I love you Dr. Shuldiner”. She went on to explain that the glasses have changed her life and those of her family. “Either someone has to drive me everywhere or I use to access. But access sometimes arrives two hours late. How can I keep appointments that way?” Driving will now allow Mia to live a more normal life.

What Are Other Ways to Treat Ocular Albinism?

While there is no cure for albinism, a series of measures can be taken to address certain symptoms of the disease:

  • A comprehensive low vision exam, along with optical and non-optical low vision devices, electronic magnifiers, and vision rehabilitation services.
  • Glasses or contacts to address refractive errors.
  • Absorptive sunglasses or special contact lenses with a colored component to reduce light sensitivity/photophobia.
  • Glasses with prisms to decrease nystagmus and treat strabismus by getting both eyes to point in the same direction.
  • Surgery to reduce nystagmus or strabismus, especially if these cause significant head tilting.

Helping Patients with Ocular Albinism See Better

The goal of IALVS is to help our low vision patients see better by using a variety of low vision strategies, aids, and devices.

If you or someone you know has ocular albinism, contact us today. A low vision eye doctor will provide a comprehensive low vision evaluation and recommend the best aids to suit the individual’s visual needs and goals.