Your Baby's Eyes


THE FIRST STEPS TO HEALTHY EYES

Your baby's own doctor (pediatrician or family physician) will examine your baby's eyes shortly after birth, as part of the newborn exam, and later at regular well-baby and well-child checkups. Fortunately the majority of babies have normal healthy eyes, but when problems do occur, prompt identification and treatment will allow the best chance of normal vision development. If your baby's doctor detects problems then he/she will refer your baby to an ophthalmologist.

WHAT CAN I LOOK FOR?

Since most babies have normal eyes and vision, you should consult your baby's doctor, or ask him to recommend an ophthalmologist, if you see any of the following signs of eye problems:

  • Poor eye contact or rapid, unsteady eye movements (nystagmus)
  • Persistent tearing or watering of one or both eyes
  • Severe sensitivity to bright light.
  • Different shape or appearance of the eyes
  • White spot in the colored part of the eye, or unusual reflex in the eye (which may be seen in photos).
  • Redness, matting or crusting of the eyes.
  • Crossing or wandering eyes (strabismus).

Most babies eyes will wander or cross naturally during the first few months of life. If constant misalignment is noted you should see an ophthalmologist or talk to your pediatrician or family doctor.

The color of the baby's eyes may change during the first six months of life. Some babies are born with light colored eyes which become darker with age.

HOW WELL DO BABIES SEE?

At birth most babies are unable to distinguish fine detail but can make out large shapes and faces. Vision develops rapidly so that within the first months of life they can see small objects. By age one vision is essentially normal. Visual attention in babies varies during the first 2 months of life. If your infant does not make eye contact or seem to see, ask your doctor. Anything which prevents clear images from focusing in an eye will Interfere with vision development, resulting in lazy eye (amblyopia).

The beautiful and complex miracle we call sight develops fully in almost all babies with little or no special attention. Although eye problems are rare the majority can be treated if detected at an early age. You can insure that your baby receives enough stimulation to his vision to keep it developing on schedule by doing some simple but important things.

Just as your baby's overall development is dependent on your interaction with the baby, so your infant's vision can be stimulated by providing colorful toys mobiles, pictures. Talking and playing with your baby and keeping your baby around you and involved in other activities will stimulate your baby's interest and use of his or her vision.

Should you or your baby's doctor suspect an eye or vision problem the doctor may recommend an ophthalmologist for diagnosis and treatment.

WHAT ARE COMMON EYE PROBLEMS IN INFANTS?

AMBLYOPIA:

Amblyopia is poor vision in an eye that did not develop normal sight during early childhood. It is sometimes called "lazy eye". If detected early, amblyopia can usually be treated by patching the stronger eye. Some of the underlying causes of amblyopia are strabismus, droopy eye lid (ptosis), cataract, and focusing problems. These conditions may also require treatment. Usually only one eye is affected by amblyopia.

STRABISMUS:

Strabismus is a misalignment of the eyes in which the two eyes are pointed in different directions. One eye may be directed straight ahead while the other eye is turned inward, outward, upward or downward. Strabismus in infants can cause amblyopia and permanent visual loss. Infants and young children usually do not have double vision with strabismus. Treatment should be started early.

TEARING:

In many infants the tear drainage system is blocked by a persistent membrane which usually opens in the first few months of life. Until the tear duct opens, the eyes overflow with tears and may collect mucus. Treatment may involve drops, ointment, massage or probing. Very rarely, tearing is caused by other conditions such as congenital glaucoma.

CONJUNCTIVITIS:
To avoid serious eye infection at birth your baby's eyes are treated with antibiotics or silver nitrate. Eye infections can be acquired at any age and may be associated with colds or seen with blocked tear ducts. Most conjunctivitis (pink eye) will respond to treatment with eye drops or ointment.