When Tennessee mother Tara Taylor posted a picture of her 3-year old daughter, Rylee, on Facebook, she was just expecting some “likes.” But when several friends looked at the picture, they saw something else besides an adorable little girl: Rylee’s left eye was glowing.
Taylor’s friends alerted her that, while it was probably nothing, a glowing yellow pupil could indicate a vision problem with Rylee, and they encouraged her to make an appointment for her daughter with an eye doctor.
It turns out that Taylor’s Facebook friends helped save Rylee’s left eye from blindness.
After visiting an ophthalmologist, Rylee was diagnosed with Coats disease, a rare degenerative eye disease that usually occurs in childhood, with an onset beginning as early as 12 months. In Coats disease, the eye’s blood vessels are abnormally dilated, twisted, and leaky. These abnormalities prevent the normal blood flow to the retina. Instead, the fluid leaking from the blood vessels causes fluid to build up in the retina.
If enough fluid builds up, it can cause the retina to detach, which equates to a loss of vision. A common sign of Coats disease is a yellow glowing eye captured in flash photography; just what Taylor’s friends saw in her Facebook photo.
Fortunately for Rylee, her condition was caught early enough to prevent a complete loss of vision in her left eye. She now sees an ophthalmologist specializing in retina disorders every few months to receive treatments that help keep Coats disease at bay.
According to the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, there are five defined stages of Coats disease, and the type of treatment a patient receives depends on the stage of Coats disease they have:
- Stage 1: Abnormal blood vessels are apparent in the retina, but aren’t yet leaky. An ophthalmologist can treat this stage with laser therapy and some, if not most, vision can be saved.
- Stage 2: The abnormal blood vessels have begun to leak in the retina. Vision may be normal if not much fluid has leaked, or, if a good deal of fluid has built up, vision loss may be severe. Laser therapy and cryotherapy can be used to help save some amount of vision, depending on how significant the fluid buildup is at time of treatment.
- Stage 3: The build of fluid is so significant that it has caused the retina to detach. Depending on the progression of the disease, cyrotherapy or surgery to reattach the retina can be used to help restore some amount of vision.
- Stage 4: The retina is detached and raised pressure in the eye has caused the onset of glaucoma. In this stage, vision is not treatable.
- Stage 5: Blindness occurs and the accompanying glaucoma may be painful.
Coats disease is dangerous to children’s vision precisely because they’re at an age during the disease’s onset that they’re unlikely to express (or are unaware) of any changes to their vision. And while children may receive a vision screening at school, this vision screening may not pickup on potential eye disease, or the school screening may catch a disease like Coats too late.
In addition to any vision screenings, all children should have a comprehensive eye exam, which includes a close evaluation of eye health. The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends that children have an eye exam at the age of three years, before beginning first grade, and every two years thereafter.