Doctors in the UAE have developed a new procedure to diagnose eye disorders in children, which replaces painful injections with a sweet drink, helping detect diseases that can cause blindness.
Experts said the new technique avoids the use of painful injections, which can be frightening for both the children and their parents.
Results from a clinical study suggest the sweet drink solution is an effective way of delivering a coloured dye to the retina, to help doctors detect problems quickly and painlessly.
The medical study on diagnosing children undertaken in the UAE has even achieved the distinction of becoming the very first medical study undertaken entirely in the UAE, to be published by the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Ophthalmology.
Doctors told Khaleej Times that it is a common misconception that children do not develop eye diseases.
“It is not uncommon for children to have diseases in the eye, from simple eye infections, to very difficult congenital diseases,” said Dr Igor Kozak, consultant ophthalmologist, vitreoretinal surgeon, Moorefields Eye Hospital Abu Dhabi.
He pointed out that there are more cases of paediatric patients with eye diseases, from new born to the teenage ages, in the region than in the West.
“There are more inherited problems and genetic diseases in the Middle East, so the prevalence here is higher.”
Dr Kozak said a study, where 500 pediatric patients were examined, revealed that 10 per cent of the children had abnormalities in the eyes.
Moreover, he said the clinic receives around 100 cases a week, and 10 per cent have significant diseases. “Most of them are inherited or congenital.”
He also pointed out that the innovative technique can now detect abnormalities quickly.
The technique is not only being applied at the UAE hospitals, but also at hospitals around the world. “Children can now be properly diagnosed without being traumatised.”
Dr Kozak stressed that early detection is key in preventing loss of sight, which is why the new method is a fundamental step in treating eye diseases. “These diseases lead to a loss of site, to the point that the eye may need to be removed.”
“Previously, if we could not find the vain or if the child was not cooperative for injection, we could not have images, and could not diagnose and document.”
Dr Kozak said the new method can also be used on adults in the UAE, particularly those who are suffering from diabetes, as they tend to have retinal problems. “We are also trying to apply the method to the adult population now.”
Declan Flanagan, medical director at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said retinal disorders are one of the most common causes of sight loss in children.
“It’s so important that we get clear images of the back of the eye so we can accurately diagnose conditions to ensure that we offer the most appropriate treatment.”
A game changer for treating eye diseases
The new procedure (known as oral fundus fluorescein angiography or oral FFA), involves using a special coloured dye solution mixed into a sweet drink, which is then ingested by the child.
The UAE conducted a study, which included 18 children who were imaged, using the technique and advanced imaging device.
Dr Syed Ali, consultant paediatric ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital, said: “The new technique helped diagnose 30 kids between the ages of 4-16 so far. Most of them were diagnosed with retina problems and were treated successfully.”
Dr Irfan Khan, consultant ophthalmologist, Moorfields Eye Hospital, said the study has demonstrated that the oral administration of the coloured dye, with the addition of modern imaging, will help diagnose young patients, without causing fear from painful injections.
Mohammed Ali Al Shorafa Al Hammadi, CEO and managing director of United Eastern Medical Services in Abu Dhabi, emphasised on the importance of the scientific study.
“The study opened new horizons to reach new techniques when it comes to the diagnosis of paediatric retina disorders, which makes the UAE’s healthcare sector an active contributor with international medical and research centres in developing new diagnostic technologies and innovations.”