What is Aniridia?
Aniridia also affects the development of other structures of the eye. The blurred sight that is associated with Aniridia is not due to the absence of the iris but is a result of the abnormal development of the macula, the centermost region of the retina that provides detailed sight, color vision, and daylight vision. As light enters the eye, it strikes the light-sensing cells of the retina and sends the information to the brain.
When the macula is not fully developed at birth, the brain is not able to perceive color, fine details, and images in the bright daylight. Consequently, many patients with Aniridia squint their eyes to reduce the glare and they tend to get closer to their reading materials to read. Their distance clarity of sight may range from 20/70 (able to read a 2-inch letter from 20 feet) to 20/200 (able to read a 4-inch letter from 20 feet).
In addition to the abnormal development to the macula, patients with Aniridia are at risk for developing other eye and medical problems. Cataracts (the cloudiness of the internal crystalline lens of the eye), glaucoma (increased intraocular pressure of the eye causing damage to the optic nerve), Wilm’s tumor (kidney tumor), abnormal blood sugar, reduced sense of smell, and dysnomia (difficulty naming familiar objects) are more common among children with Aniridia. Although these complications are associated with Aniridia, they are treatable when diagnosed early on.
Just like with most other health problems, it is crucial to recognize the problem as soon as possible and to start the appropriate and adequate treatment. If the therapy is incorporated in the early stage, the outcome of the disease will take a significantly optimistic look.
Most patients with Aniridia have nystagmus, the uncontrollable shaking of the eyes. Nystagmus does not cause images to appear to shake from side to side. Patients with Aniridia may turn their head or eyes to reduce the nystagmus. Eye muscle surgery and exercises are sometimes recommended, but they do not eliminate nystagmus in all of the cases.
However, not all things are as negative as the symptoms and problems that we just listed here. Children and adults with Aniridia tend to have high levels of functional vision and respond extremely well to low vision aids. Specialized filters, high powered reading glasses, contact lenses, and bioptic telescopic spectacles can improve the clarity of sight, reduce problems with glare, and increase their functional vision to a level that allows visual reading and sometimes to the degree of vision allowing patients to take their drivers test. Assistive technology, computers, and software programs are extremely helpful for these patients.
By improving the quality of vision, the overall quality of life will also experience a significant boost, and it is entirely reasonable to try and enhance our lives with various tools and methods.
Children and adults with aniridia will benefit from a consultation by a low vision specialist and by using low vision aids. Patients should be evaluated for photochromic spectacles and tinted contact lenses to reduce glare and protect the eyes from the harmful rays of the sun.
Low vision aids such as contact lenses, biopic glasses, handheld telescopes, and video magnification systems can improve distance sight to 20/20 while specialized reading glasses, hand magnifiers, and closed circuit televisions can allow patients to read the small print.
Tinted paper with bold lines, bold felt pens, and thick pencils will help students to perform writing tasks at school. Students who are bothered by glare will also benefit from placing their paper on a dark blotter or dark piece of construction paper to help them to see the edges of their paper.
At home, the use of an incandescent light bulb hidden behind a dark torchiere floor lamp can provide excellent general lighting while reducing glare. A small desk lamp such as an OTT full spectrum lamp may provide a soft light for reading and writing. See Vision and Lighting.
Computer users will benefit from changing the background of the display to a black or blue background with white letters. Enlargement of the font size will also increase readability. For information on how to modify the computer screen, see “Solutions To Help You Use Your Computer.
Teenagers with aniridia who are interested in learning whether they have sufficient vision for driving should have a low vision examination by an optometrist who specializes in fitting bioptic-driving glasses.
Infants should be examined by the age of 6 months or younger. Glasses should be prescribed based on the visual developmental level of the children. For example, four-month-old infants should have their glasses prescribed to focus at their arm’s length rather than 20 feet.
Infants will benefit from vision stimulation to maximally develop the visual cortex of the brain. For specific details, please see Developing Your Child’s Vision. Developing the visual cortex is an essential stage in lives of infants, and we should do anything in our power to facilitate this process.
Students will benefit from being positioned in the front portion of the class with their backs facing windows, doors, and glare sources. The use of a black chalkboard and bold architecture chalk are easier to see than dry-erase boards due to the glare created by the whiteboard. If a dry-erase board must be used, it is very helpful only to use bold black dry-erase markers rather than colored markers. Student and teachers should have an open discussion about the possibilities to handle this situation and to overcome the obstacles in the most efficient way possible.
Students may benefit from using specialized computer software and technology such as Zoom Text magnification software, scanning programs such as Open Book and Kurzweil, and Video Magnification systems. For more information, see Computer and Assistive Technology.
Students will benefit from having copies of material frequently written on the board or presented on overhead transparencies. If PowerPoint presentations are used, a dark background with white letters written in Arial or Tahoma will improve readability for students with low vision.
Students may have some difficulty seeing small objects such as a baseball while standing in the outfield. They may also have difficulty seeing in the direct sunlight and may prefer to wear their sunglasses and a hat. Students will benefit from additional time to adapt to the indoor lighting after entering the classroom from lunch or recess. Sports such as soccer, basketball, gymnastics, swimming, and golf may be easier to participate in rather than baseball or tennis.
Specific low vision aids that are often helpful to patients with aniridia include:
Cosmetic contact lenses
4x to 6x biopic spectacles
DVI clear image aspheric reading glasses
Prescription CPF, Transitions, Melanin, and NoIR filters.
4x to 6x aspheric hand magnifiers for reading the fine print.
ZoomText software magnification program to enlarge the print on the computer screen and modify the contrast of the display