Albinism refers to a group of inherited conditions. People with albinism have little or no pigment in the eyes, skin and hair. Besides looking different, which may cause social problems, albinos also have various impairments. In the most severe form of albinism (called oculocutaneous albinism), those affected appear to have hair, skin, and iris color that are white or pink as well as vision defects. This article mainly concentrates on the eye problems resulting from albinism. The eyes need melanin pigment to develop normal vision. Because of that people with albinism have impaired vision. The skin also needs pigment for protection from sun damage so albinos sunburn themselves very easily and have increased risk of getting skin cancer. Less common types of albinism can also involve other problems.
Albinism often results extreme farsightedness or nearsightedness and astigmatism. Sight can be improved with glasses, however, normal or near normal vision is unusual even when glasses are worn.
Other common eye impairments include nystagmus and strabismus. Nystagmus is an involuntary movement of the eyes back and forth. One way how some people cope with this problem is by using a head tilt. This decreases the movement and may improve vision. For nystagmus treatment eye muscle surgery is also an option however this does not help in all cases.
Strabismus means that the eyes do not fixate and track together. In some cases the alignment of the eyes improves with the wearing of glasses. Young children are sometimes thought to use the non preferred eye more. This is done by patching the other eye. However treatment cannot correct the improper routing of the nerves to the brain.
Photophobia also is a frequent disorder. In the case of photophobia the eyes are very sensitive to the sun. This can be coped with by wearing dark classes when exposed to the sun.
Albinism treatment mainly aims to ease symptoms and depends on the extent of the disorder. The skin and eyes must be protected from the sun. Sunglasses (UV protected) may relieve photophobia. Sunburn risk can be reduced by avoiding the sun, by using sunscreens and covering completely with clothing when exposed to sun. Sunscreens should have a high SPF (sun protection factor).
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