Growth Hormone Therapy and Children’s Eyes
Pediatricians track a child’s height and weight over time, watching for a healthy growth pattern. A child who stays at the third percentile or lower on a height chart is shorter than about 97% of children their same age. These children may be prescribed growth hormone therapy.
Kids on growth hormone therapy usually get a daily injection of a lab-made hormone. This hormone helps spur growth in the child’s body.
Growth hormone therapy is generally considered to be safe and side effects are rare. However, this therapy can affect the eyes in two important ways:
Growth spurts can speed up myopia
As the hormone spurs the body to grow, the length of the eye also increases. Children with myopia already have eyes that are longer than normal from front to back. Quick growth can lead to bigger and/or faster changes in refractive error. While growth hormone won’t cause your child to become nearsighted, it may speed up their existing vision problem. Hidden signs of vision problems in kids include:
- far away things look blurry (or blurrier than they did before)
- a child squinting to see clearly, or inches closer to the television or computer
- a child who already wears glasses complains that they aren’t working as well
If you notice any of these changes, or if your child complains about their vision, schedule an exam with an ophthalmologist to be checked as soon as possible. Your child may need a new prescription for corrective lenses or other treatment.
Growth hormone and fluid pressure around the brain
Growth hormone therapy is also linked with increased pressure of fluid around the brain, or idiopathic intracranial hypertension. This is rare, happening in about one out of every 1,000 children on growth hormone. Doctors aren’t sure what causes it. Intracranial hypertension is dangerous because it can lead to swelling of the optic nerve and eventual vision loss. It’s important to be aware of warning signs:
- frequent headaches that come on suddenly;
- headaches that are accompanied by nausea and vomiting;
- headaches that are worse at night and when lying down;
- whooshing sounds in the head;
- light sensitivity;
- double vision.
If you notice any of these symptoms, call your child’s doctor right away.
Ophthalmologists recommend that all children starting growth hormone therapy get a baseline eye evaluation beforehand, and have regular vision check-ups throughout their treatment.