Babies Eye Concerns

While chances are excellent that your baby's vision will develop normally, some infants have a higher risk for certain conditions that may affect their sight later in life.

As babies grow and their eyes reach full development, parents are often the first to notice signs that their baby may have special vision needs. Don't hesitate to talk to your baby's pediatrician or eye doctor if you have any concerns.

Are There Symptoms I Should Watch For?

Find the symptom below to learn more about the potential eye problems, what to watch for, and what can be done if/when your baby needs special eye care.

Crossed eyes

It’s not uncommon for an infant’s eyes to look crossed, as if they’re turned in opposite directions. One eye may turn in towards the nose, or the eyes may seem to move independently, as if they can’t work together. For a baby less than four months old, the eyes are still learning to function as a unit – so crossing is simply a sign of continuing development. If the crossed eyes persist after your baby reaches four months old, it’s time to talk to your eye doctor about strabismus, a medical condition that can and should be treated.

Crossed eyes develop most often in babies. It is easier to correct when caught early. This is often not a condition babies or children simply outgrow so children with eyes that seem to be misaligned should be examined and treated if necessary.

Drooping eyelid

If your baby’s eyelid seems to droop over the eye in a way that looks as though it would block your baby’s vision, your baby may be developing amblyopia, which is also known as “lazy eye.” Sometimes amblyopia can result if your baby has crossed eyes for longer than the first three months of life. One eye becomes stronger than the other, leading to blurring or a loss of vision in the weaker eye. Your eye care professional may treat this condition by placing an eye patch over the stronger eye for an extended period – from weeks to months – to strengthen the weaker eye.

Milky white covering over the pupil

Normally, babies are born with a transparent lens in each eye. The lens focuses objects on the retina, and it brings objects into focus, making it possible for the eye to see, Instead of a transparent lens, some babies are born with a milky white lens, which is too cloudy to focus on objects. This condition is called congenital cataracts. Cataracts in newborn babies should be addressed as early as possible, preferably within the first three months of life, because obstructed vision can prevent important stages of their development. Left untreated congenital cataracts may cause "lazy eye" or amblyopia.

The surgical procedure for cataracts in babies is much like it is for adults, involving the removal of the affected lens in the eye. After cataract surgery, your baby will need glasses or contact lenses to see before a permanent intraocular lens is implanted. Since it is difficult for a baby to wear glasses on a daily basis, many doctors choose contact lenses as a more practical solution for babies after cataract surgery. Your doctor may choose to use Silsoft Super Plus contact lenses for aphakic which are designed for children who have had cataract surgery where an intraocular lens has not been implanted. 

Pink eyes

If your baby’s eyes have yellowish or greenish discharge and are red and irritated, he or she may have a common condition called Pink Eye, or conjunctivitis. Pink eye can come from many causes, but it generally is the result of a bacterial or viral infection. In some cases, it may come from allergies, environmental chemicals, or passed on from a mother to child during childbirth. The underlying cause of pink eye will determine the course of treatment so talk to your baby's doctor.  

Vibrating Eyes

If your baby’s eyes seem to jump, vibrate back and forth, or move erratically in a way that looks unusual to you, he or she may have nystagmus. This condition may signal that the eyes’ motor system is not developing normally. If you have a relative with nystagmus, or if you have it yourself, it’s possible that your baby could develop this as well – so it’s important to tell your pediatrician or eye doctor during your baby’s first eye examination if nystagmus runs in your family. The American Nystagmus Network provides a great deal of information on this unusual condition, its causes and treatment.

Watery Eyes

If your baby’s eyes seem to water all the time, whether the baby is crying or cheerful, your child may have blocked or infected tear ducts – a condition known as congenital stenosis. You may see crusting or discharge around the eye, especially first thing in the morning.

Many infants are born with a membrane in the tear duct that may not open, or is too narrow to allow the passage of tears. This is not uncommon, and in most cases will resolve by age 1. However, if it lasts beyond age 1, a minor, generally painless surgical procedure can be performed to open the duct. Generally, there’s no treatment required, babies outgrow this in their first year.

Can Babies Suffer from Glaucoma?

Very rarely, a baby will be born with Glaucoma.  

Babies with glaucoma exhibit some behavioral and physical signs that you may recognize as unusual. Often, these babies don’t like bright lights or sunshine. Their eyes may tear more than normal, and one eye may look larger than the other. Also, the eyes may bulge, a symptom known as buphthalmos, or “ox eyes.”

Are Premature Babies at More Risk for Eye Issues?

woman reading
Premature babies’ eyes may develop more slowly than babies who are delivered at full term. Be sure to tell your eye care professional if your baby was premature, because in some cases, premature babies can have retinopathy of prematurity, a medical condition that requires treatment. The National Eye Institute, a division of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), provides a great deal of information about this condition.