Albinism and Low Vision

Editor: Dr. Russel Lazarus, Published May 3, 2021

Albinism affects at least 1 in 20,000 of the population.

Ocular albinism affects the eyes, causing dramatic loss of visual function and impact on the quality of life.

What is albinism?

Albinism is a genetic disorder that results in the body’s inability to produce melanin, a dark pigment that protects a person’s tissues from ultraviolet radiation (UV) and gives the eyes, skin, and hair their color.

The most common form of ocular albinism is Type 1 or Nettleship-Falls.

Ocular albinism primarily affects the eyes, by reducing the pigmentation in the eye, which is essential for normal vision. In most cases it causes mild to moderate central vision impairment.

While individuals with albinism retain some vision, many may be legally blind.

While there is no cure for the condition, glasses, contacts and low vision aids and devices can help by maximizing a patient’s remaining vision, allowing them to experience a much higher quality of life.

Contact an eye doctor experienced in low vision who can help understand your condition and show you the many options to allow you to enjoy your vision.

What is ocular albinism?

Ocular albinism is a genetic disorder in which the eyes are deficient in the amount of melanin, which gives the eye its color or pigment. For those born with this condition, any vision loss present at birth doesn’t worsen over time.

What are the signs and symptoms of ocular albinism?

Because of the lack of pigmentation in the eyes, individuals with ocular albinism will experience:

  • Iris of the eyes appear pinkish or very light color
  • Extreme light sensitivity (photophobia)
  • Involuntary rapid eye movements (nystagmus)
  • Mild to moderate central vision loss
  • Poor binocular vision (strabismus)
  • Reduced depth perception
  • Head tilt

Low vision aids for ocular albinism

There are many types of low vision aids and low vision glasses to improve the lives of those with ocular albinism.

Since each aid assists with different tasks, a person with low vision will benefit from multiple low vision glasses and devices.

While people with ocular albinism experience central vision loss, they have excellent side vision. Therefore, they respond well to low vision glasses and devices, particularly bioptic telescope and microscope lenses.

These lenses may allow the patient to see objects at a distance, read words on a board or street sign, watch TV and recognize people’s faces.

In severe cases, telescopes/bioptic lenses, magnifiers, microscopes, and closed circuit television systems may be prescribed.

Other ways to treat ocular albinism

While there is no cure for albinism, there are different ways symptoms of the disease can be addressed:

  • A comprehensive low vision exam, along with optical and non-optical low vision devices, electronic magnifiers, and vision rehabilitation services
  • Absorptive sunglasses or special contact lenses with a colored component to reduce light sensitivity
  • Glasses or contact lenses to address refractive errors
  • Glasses with prisms to decrease nystagmus and treat strabismus
  • Surgery to reduce nystagmus or strabismus

Schedule a low vision eye evaluation with an eye doctor near you who can provide the most appropriate adaptive devices to help you see better.