How to Recognize Vision Problems in Babies
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Compared to your eagle-eyes, your newborn’s vision is really bad! But don’t worry…it’s supposed to be. Unlike your baby’s ability to hear, which is remarkably good straight out of the womb, their ability to see takes time to develop. For one, they need to learn how to focus their eyes—and use them together—to process the world around them. That, of course, doesn’t mean that there’s no need to pay attention to your child’s developing vision! A lot of changes happen during your baby’s first year, so it’s wise to be on the lookout for issues with their eyes or vision. That way, you can nip problems in the bud early.
Normal Vision Development in Babies
Not every tot will reach their vision milestones at the same time…so don’t worry if your baby doesn’t stay perfectly “on schedule.” However, if you’re concerned, it’s always a good idea to address chat up your health care provider. Here are some of the heavy-hitter milestones to expect with your baby’s vision development, during their first year.
Vision Development at Birth
- Eyesight is between 20/200 and 20/400
- May look cross-eyed
- Gaze may drift outward
- Able to see objects up to 8 to 10 inches away
- Sensitive to bright light
Vision Development at 1 Month
- Likes to look at black and white and contrasting pictures
- Enjoys looking at faces
- Able to follow an object up to 90 degrees
- Starts producing tears
Vision Development at 2 to 3 Months
- Begins to see objects as one image
- Looks at own hands
- Can follow moving objects and lights
Vision Development at 4 to 5 Months
- Begins to reach for—and bat at—objects
- Watches themselves in a mirror
- Recognizes a bottle
Vision Development at 5 to 7 Months
- Can see in full color
- Can see in three dimensions
- Can see further distances…though still not as well as adults
- Turns head to see a toy
- Will touch reflection in mirror
Vision Development at 7 to 11 Months
- Able to focus on small objects
- Begins to have depth perception, or the ability to figure out if an object is near or far
Vision Development at 12 Months
- Can track faster-moving objects
Vision Problems in Babies
There are some vision problems you may already be familiar with…nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia), or astigmatism probably come to mind. And those types of eye issues can impact kids. In fact, about 175,000 preschoolers struggle with common vision issues like these. Though vison problems in babyhood are less common, it’s still very important to be aware of what they are. After all, the sooner you can spot eye issues, the sooner you can treat ‘em. Here are some conditions that may affect your little one’s vision.
Also called amblyopia, this eye issue most often develops between birth and the age of 6. Here, there’s a hiccup in how the brain and one eye work together, making it so the brain doesn’t recognize sight from that eye. Because of this, the brain relies on the stronger peeper for vision, which further weakens the other eye.
Up to three out of 100 children have amblyopia. Babies who were born premature, at a low birth weight, and/or with developmental disabilities are at an increased risk. Lazy eye is usually treated with some combination of eye medications, prisms, glasses, vision therapy, and eye patches. (An important note: Occasional eye-crossing—either inward or outward—between birth and 4 months is totally normal and expected.)
Blocked Tear Ducts
Tear ducts are the teeny tubes that drain tears from the eyes. But for many babies, these ducts aren’t fully developed at birth, making it so fluids can’t drain properly. Babies with blocked tear ducts experience an overflow of tears and mucus, which can sometimes cause conjunctivitis (aka pinkeye). Blocked tear ducts usually clear up without treatment, especially if your baby is under 6 months old. Gently massaging the ducts can help remove the blockage.
Surprisingly, cataracts are not an issue reserved for older adults! While rare, children can sometimes have this condition, where the lens of the eye becomes cloudy. Other symptoms may include a crossed or wandering eye, light sensitivity, or white-appearing pupils in photographs. A handful of children, however, don’t exhibit any symptoms. In some cases, kids require contact lenses or glasses, and other tykes over the age of 1, surgery is needed. (Babies with certain genetic conditions, like Down Syndrome, are at an elevated risk.)
Childhood glaucoma is also called congenital glaucoma (when present at birth), infantile glaucoma (when it develops between 12 and 24 months), and juvenile glaucoma (when it occurs in older children). No matter the type, glaucoma in children is rare. Here, there’s too much pressure in the eye, which damages the optic nerve. If left untreated, it can lead to blindness. Signs include light sensitivity, a cloudy cornea, extremely watery eyes, pain, and eyelid spasms. Babies who have glaucoma may need surgery.
How to Spot Potential Vision Issues in Babies
Your little bundle should have their peepers checked for infections, defects, cataracts, and glaucoma before leaving the hospital. Should, of course, does not mean that it universally occurs, so check with your healthcare provider regarding their protocols. Either way, by 6 months, your baby’s eyes and vision will be checked as part of regular well-child visits. And starting at 1 to 2 years old, docs can now use photo-screening devices to catch more eye abnormalities.
Beyond doctor visits, keep an eye on your baby’s typical developmental and vision milestones and watch out for red flags such as:
- Excessive watery eyes. This might indicate a tear duct is blocked. Rarely, this can point to glaucoma.
- Bright light sensitivity. This could be related to the increased eye pressure of cataracts.
- Red, crusty eyes. This may mean that a blocked tear duct has caused conjunctivitis.
- Looking cross-eyed. If your baby’s eyes are misaligned (constantly turning or looking cross-eyed), this is a sign of lazy eye or cataracts.
- White pupils in photos. Normally, pupils appear black or red in photographs. If the pupil looks white instead, this could indicate cataracts, retinoblastoma (a rare eye cancer), or another issue. You should inform your provider right away if you notice this sign in your baby.
In the end, remember this: Your baby’s eyes may not be a window to their soul, but they’re certainly an important tool for your developing and growing lovebug. If you have any concerns, don’t hesitate to discuss them with your child’s healthcare provider, who can help see you through any potential issues.
More About Your Baby’s Health & Development:
- Baby Milestones to Have on Your Radar
- Your Baby’s Brain: Why the First 3 Years Are So Important
- How Do Babies Learn to Talk?
- Baby Eczema: What to Know
- What to Expect at Well Child Visits
- Stanford Medicine Children’s Health: Age Appropriate Vision Milestones
- Visual Impairment in Preschool Children in the United States, JAMA Ophthalmology, June 2017
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Eye Problems in Children and How They’re Treated
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Lazy Eye (Amblyopia)
- National Institute of Health National Eye Institute: Amblyopia
- American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus: Nasolacrimal Duct Obstruction
- American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus: Cataract
- American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus: Glaucoma
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Vision Screening for Babies & Children
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Pinkeye (Conjunctivitis)
- American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus: Retinoblastoma
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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.