In infancy, your little one’s eyes play at least three big roles:
- Learn how to focus, track, perceive depth, and discriminate visual information.
- Take in rich sensory information that helps him connect with you, learn about the world around him, acquire language, and coordinate his vision and body movements.
- Offer clues to possible underlying medical conditions.
Because your baby’s eyes have such a big job, it’s important to do a couple of key things: Follow your baby’s vision milestones (our BabySparks program is a great resource for this, as well as activities that support vision development), and be aware of eye-related red flags. Reading or feeling concerned about possible problems can be scary, but the good news is that when eye-related issues are caught early, many of them can be resolved.
Also remember that while we gather all of our information from trusted sources, this article is not a substitute for medical advice. All little ones should have regular eye exams starting at age 6 months, and you should seek guidance about any eye-related concerns you have from your child’s pediatrician or a pediatric ophthalmologist.
Red Flags for Eye Problems
Signs your child is having trouble seeing or focusing:
- Lights, mobiles, and other visual stimulation don’t catch your baby’s attention by age 1 month.
- Constant squinting.
- Frequent eye rubbing.
- Does not track objects with the eyes by age 3 months.
In some cases, persistent lack of visual activity (especially making eye contact) may indicate a developmental disorder such as autism.
Signs of a problem with the eye muscles:
- Eyes point in different directions after age 4 months. Before 4 months, occasional eye misalignment is normal. If it persists, though, it may indicate a condition called strabismus. If left untreated, strabismus can result in amblyopia (“lazy eye”). Amblyopia develops when the brain ignores a wandering eye and, as a result, the vision in that eye weakens.
- A drooping eyelid, or an eyelid that stays closed, may be sign of ptosis, or weakness of the muscles responsible for raising the eyelid.
Signs of a medical condition:
- Excessive tearing can be caused by blocked tear ducts. These generally resolve on their own by the time a child turns 1. In the meantime, your child’s doctor may recommend tear duct massage or special eye drops.
- A pupil that looks white (especially in photos taken with a flash), or overall cloudiness in the eye may be caused by cataracts. Infant cataracts can be inherited, or the result of infection, inflammation, drug reactions, or certain illnesses during pregnancy. White, cloudy pupils may also signal retinoblastoma – a rare childhood eye cancer.
- Different-sized pupils, also called anisocoria, may be a normal variation (if the difference is small), but may also be caused by a nerve that isn’t functioning properly.
- Eyes that jump or wiggle back and forth may indicate a neurological condition called nystagmus.
- Bulging eyes may be a sign of hyperthyroidism.
- Extreme sensitivity to light may indicate elevated pressure in the eye.