Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and the Eyes
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and the Eyes - Fetal Alcohol Effects
What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?
Fetal alcohol syndrome is one of the most common and completely preventable forms of mental retardation. It is estimated that between one and three individuals per thousand have some form of this disability. It presents itself differently in each case but those with FAS commonly exhibit symptoms like facial abnormalities, mild to severe mental retardation and learning disabilities, low birth and childhood weight and heart and organ abnormalities. Fetal alcohol syndrome can be found in all races and cultures and is a problem worldwide.
How Does Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Occur?
Little is known about the exact causes of fetal alcohol syndrome other than the fact that it is caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy. There are no tests for FAS and mothers are not usually willing to disclose information about heavy drinking during pregnancy. Not all children with the condition show signs and not all babies exposed to alcohol will develop fetal alcohol syndrome.
No one is sure of the amount of alcohol that a fetus must receive to develop FAS. The occasional alcoholic drink will probably not cause any problems, but most doctors still recommend abstaining from alcohol entirely during pregnancy.
How Does Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Impact the Eyes?
Many different vision problems are common in those with fetal alcohol syndrome. Visual acuity is reduced is 50% of cases and farsightedness and nearsightedness are also common. Some visual problems are a result of incomplete or incorrect eye development during pregnancy and commonly result in permanent, lifelong vision impairments. These can include but are not limited to small or improperly formed optic nerves and cornea and iris malformations. It is also common to find cataracts or nystagmus (rapid and involuntary eye movements) in those with FAS. Interestingly 50% of children with FAS also show signs of strabismus which is the term for a turned or misaligned eye. Strabismus can lead to the development of amblyopia or lazy eye.
Fetal alcohol syndrome can also lead to problems with the look and placement of the eye. For example telecanthus or an increased distance between the corners of the eye is very common. Blepharoptosis, or droopy eyelids, are seen in as many as 25% of those with FAS. Microphthalmia, or an abnormally small eye, may also be found.
Once a child has FAS nothing can be done to reverse the damage. Treatment is used to remedy the problems caused by the condition. Eyeglasses are commonly used to help visual problems. Any child with FAS should receive a complete eye examination. Understanding the visual problems that a child faces will help in determining the proper course of treatment and any special accommodations needed at school. Early treatment is essential for ensuring that visual problems caused by FAS don’t lead to other problems.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Prevention
Fetal alcohol syndrome and its associated eye problems can be completely prevented if women avoid alcohol entirely during pregnancy. Women must realize that alcoholic drinks might not harm or impact them, but that they can lead to serious developmental problems in their unborn child. If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant it is important to abstain from alcohol. Remember that it can take several weeks to realize that pregnancy has occurred, so women that are trying to conceive or not using birth control should avoid drinking alcohol.
If a woman is drinking during pregnancy it is important to remember that it is never too late to stop. The sooner that she stops drinking the better it is for the baby’s chances for avoiding FAS or developing a less severe case. Development occurs at all stages during pregnancy so avoiding alcohol is important. Women that cannot stop drinking on their own should consult their doctor and get help.
Fetal alcohol syndrome is a serious condition, but it is completely preventable. It impacts the vision, mental capacity and health of children and adults. Finding vision problems in those with this condition can help to improve quality of life and learning capabilities.
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