What is albinism?

Albinism is an inherited condition. It affects the eyes and skin of some individuals, and only the eyes of others. It results from the body's inability to produce normal amounts of a pigment called melanin.

What are the different types of albinism?

Oculocutaneous albinism - both the skin and eyes are affected and can present with varying degrees of pigment. Some children have white hair, little or no pigment in the skin, pale coloured eyes and significant vision impairment. Others with more pigment may have red-brown hair, some skin colour, blue or brown eyes and less severe vision impairment.

Ocular albinism, – children have vision impairment but the hair and skin are normal or near-normal in colour.

How does albinism affect vision?

For both types of albinism, effects on the child's vision include:

  • Macular hypoplasia - an abnormality in the retina resulting in decreased clarity of vision
  • Nystagmus - a rhythmical involuntary flicker of the eyes
  • Photophobia - an intolerance to bright light due to reduced or absent pigment in the iris
  • Refractive errors (short or long sight or astigmatism)
  • Strabismus ('squint' or 'turned eye')
  • Visual pathway anomalies may also be present, particularly problems with depth perception

What other difficulties are caused by albinism?

Skin sensitivity - the effects of albinism on the child's skin will depend on the amount of pigment present, but all children with albinism are prone to sunburn and skin problems and will need additional protection.

What assistance do children with albinism need?

  • Children with albinism may need some form of visual aid, depending on the type and extent of the visual condition. Glasses or contact lenses can correct for short or long sightedness or astigmatism.
  • Older children may need a monocular for distance viewing and some may need large print or a magnifier for reading.
  • All children with albinism benefit from sunglasses and hats to reduce glare and prevent sunburn.
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