Infant Eye Diseases

Vision plays a big role in an infant’s perception of the world. While eye diseases are relatively rare in infants, they do exist, and if left untreated can lead to permanent eye damage or even blindness. Eye exams are an important part of well-baby care, and can ensure that eye disease diagnosis occurs at the earliest possible stage.

Retinopathy of Prematurity

Retinopathy of prematurity, or ROP, is the leading cause of childhood blindness in developed countries, according to the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. Many premature babies used to develop ROB from exposure to high levels of oxygen over extended periods of time to treat their immature lungs. As a result, the developing blood vessels in the retina grew abnormally and produced scars, and even caused retinal detachment or blindness. Today, physicians are better able to manage therapeutic doses of oxygen to help prevent ROP from occurring. As a precaution, doctors recommend an ophthalmic exam during the early weeks following a premature birth.


Amblyopia causes babies to inadvertently use one eye more often than the other, according to the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, and affects one in 25 to 50 babies. If left untreated, the weaker eye can eventually go blind from disuse. According to the University of Illinois at Chicago Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Service, this eye imbalance can occur because of a droopy eyelid, an eye injury or even a cataract. Treatment usually requires the child to use the lazy eye with glasses, or wearing a patch over the stronger eye to encourage use of the weaker one.


While many babies have unsteady gazes at birth, by the age of four months most should be able to focus with both eyes straight ahead. A common infant eye condition, strabismus is characterized by an eye being turned in (cross-eyed) or turned out (walleye). Untreated strabismus can lead to the earlier mentioned amblyopia, as well as double vision, eye strain and headaches. Children with strabismus often have impaired depth perception, and usually require glasses, eye drops or exercises, or even surgery.


Retinoblastoma is a rare form of eye cancer that is nevertheless the most common childhood cancer, according to the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. Early signs can include white spots in the center of a child’s eyes in a photograph. Treatment options vary depending on the tumor’s size and location. Left untreated, the cancer can spread along the optic nerve to the brain and be fatal.


Primary infantile glaucoma occurs in approximately one in 25,000 babies in the United States, according to the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. Similar to adults, permanent blindness can occur without detection and treatment. Early signs of glaucoma in infants can include enlargement in one or both eyes, excessive tearing, cloudy corneas, light sensitivity, and nearsightedness in one or both eyes. Pediatric glaucoma usually requires surgery, and approximately 80 to 90 percent of babies who receive timely treatment continue to have normal vision.

About this Author

Based in Charlotte, N.C., Virginia Franco has more than 15 years\’ experience freelance writing. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications, including the education magazine “My School Rocks” and Franco has a master\’s degree in social work with an emphasis in health care from the University of Maryland, and a journalism degree from the University of Richmond.