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 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.
- 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.