In the Spotlight: Rahul Bhola, M.D.

An internationally recognized pediatric ophthalmologist with expertise in strabismus, amblyopia, pediatric cataracts and glaucoma has joined CHOC Children’s. Dr. Rahul Bhola is the newest division chief of ophthalmology with CHOC Children’s Specialists.

“The biggest reason I was inspired to join CHOC was the mission of the hospital. I feel that CHOC’s mission to nurture, advance and protect the health and well-being of children is in close alignment with my personal goals as a physician,” Bhola says. “I seek to nurture the health care of children by delivering state-of-the-art ophthalmology care to our community. CHOC has the resources, reputation and experience to provide excellent care.”

Dr. Bhola comes from a family of physicians. His parents practiced internal medicine for more than 40 years in India, and the empathetic and holistic care they provided to their patients inspired him to pursue a career in medicine.

Dr. Rahul Bhola
Dr. Rahul Bhola is the newest division chief of ophthalmology with CHOC Children’s Specialists.

“Very early on in medical school, I developed a special interest in pediatrics, and the surgical finesse of ophthalmology later cemented my passion for pediatric ophthalmology. The gift of vision is the most important sense a child can have,” Dr. Bhola says. “Giving a ray of light to those who struggle with vision is very gratifying to me. Treating children is important to me because they have their entire lives ahead of them, and improving their vision positively impacts their entire family.”

Dr. Bhola attended medical school and completed an internship at University College of Medical Sciences in Delhi, India. He completed two residencies in ophthalmology at Maulana Azad Medical College in New Delhi, India and the University of Louisville, Kentucky. He pursued fellowships in pediatric ophthalmology at the Jules Stein Eye Institute at the University of California Los Angeles and the University of Iowa.

Dr. Bhola has received numerous awards both nationally and internationally and has extensively published in peer-reviewed journals. He has participated as an investigator in many NIH-sponsored trials and has been named to the “Best Doctors in America” and “America’s Top Ophthalmologists” lists consecutively for many years. Dr. Bhola recently started studying the ocular effect of excessive smart device usage in children. His research includes tear film composition in children who are consistently overexposed to smart devices, thereby establishing a link between dry eyes in children and excessive smart device usage.

At CHOC, Dr. Bhola will provide comprehensive eye care, treating patients with a variety of eye diseases and disorders. In addition to treating refractive errors (the need for glasses), Dr. Bhola will provide more specialized care for diseases like amblyopia (lazy eyes), pediatric and adult strabismus (crossing or drifting of eyes), blocked tear duct, diplopia (double vision), pediatric cataracts, pediatric glaucoma, tearing eyes, retinopathy of prematurity, ptosis (droopy eyelids), traumatic eye injuries and uveitis.

Dr. Bhola is among the very few surgeons nationally skilled in treating pediatric glaucoma surgically using the illuminated microcatheter. This highly-specialized, minimally-invasive approach of canaloplasty has been used for treating pediatric glaucoma only within the last few years. Childhood glaucoma, though uncommon, can be a blinding disease causing severe visual impairment if not detected early and treated promptly. The onset of juvenile glaucoma often occurs between the ages of 10 and 20 and can be multifactorial. Glaucoma in pediatric population can also be secondary to trauma occurring from any form of injury including sports injuries.

As a Level II pediatric trauma center, and the only one in Orange County dedicated exclusively for kids, CHOC’s trauma team treats a variety of critically injured children from across the region. This includes children who have sustained sports injuries, during which damage to the structure of the eye can cause glaucoma.

Dr. Bhola is very passionate about educating primary care physicians on the need for regular pediatric vision screenings. For example, children complaining of headaches may be taken to a neurologist. However, eye problems such as refractive errors, convergence insufficiency and strabismus can result in headache from excessive straining of the eyes, which may affect school performance and even social withdrawal in some children. These conditions are likely to be identified at regular vision screenings.

Dr. Bhola’s philosophy of care is to treat his patients as if they were his own children.

“My main philosophy is to deliver patient-centered care with compassion and excellence. I remember their life events and celebrate their achievements with them. It’s important that a patient remembers you in order to start to build trust with them. I love when my patients send me holiday cards and copies of their school photos and let me know how they are doing. They became part of my family. I always treat every patient like they are my own child,” Bhola says.

He also focuses on treating the whole person rather than the disease, and involving patients in their care.

“I don’t treat the disease, I treat the individual. Healing is more than treating the disease. I want to be at their level so I always talk to them directly and not only talk to their parents. I involve their entire group during treatment,” he says.

At CHOC, Dr. Bhola is eager to provide holistic eye care for his patients.

“My practice will offer complete comprehensive vision care to all patients, which includes both medical as well as surgical care. Our patients come to us for glasses, contacts, regular ocular screenings, and we also provide more specialized care like glaucoma, cataract and strabismus surgeries,” Bhola says. “A lot of systemic disorders such as diabetes, sickle cell anemia, juvenile rheumatic disease and lupus, have co-occurring eye issues that may go undetected if children aren’t seen for regular eye screenings. CHOC patients with systemic disorders such as diabetes now have better access to holistic care.”

As division chief for CHOC Children’s Specialists ophthalmology, Dr. Bhola is passionate about providing state-of-the-art care to patients and training the next generation of pediatric ophthalmologists.

My main goal is to build a leading ophthalmology division, not only delivering excellent patient care but also engaging in cutting-edge research and disseminating education to the next generation of ophthalmologists and referring providers,” Bhola says.

When not treating patients, Dr. Bhola enjoys cooking, practicing yoga and meditation, and spending time with his wife and two daughters.

To contact Dr. Bhola or refer a patient, please call 888-770-2462.

Learn more about ophthalmology at CHOC Children’s.

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CHOC Children’s Grand Rounds Video: Optic Neuritis in Pediatric Patients

In this CHOC Children’s grand rounds video, Dr. Chantal Boisvert, neuro-ophthalmologist, addresses optic neuritis in pediatric patients.  Specifically, she discusses how the presentation and outcome can be different for children compared to adults. Pediatric optic neuritis is often bilateral and tends to occur within one to two weeks after a known or presumed viral infection/vaccination. Children with optic neuritis are also at lower risk of developing MS compared to the adult population.

Dr. Boisvert also shares some of the challenges associated with diagnosing and treating optic nerve problems.  Sudden inflammation of the nerve, which carries visual information from the eye to the brain, can cause acute vision loss. Most cases will improve after a few weeks, but injury to the nerve fibers can sometimes result in permanent loss of vision. Physicians need to know when to refer to neuro-ophthalmologists. Neuro-ophthalmologists are familiar with all aspects of both optic nerve and brain disorders, and will be able to provide up-to-date recommendations on complex treatment issues and follow-up.

View previous grand rounds videos.