Your infant’s vision is still developing for the first year of their life. Having a cross-eye or not being able to focus much is a part of their development stage in the initial months. Vision issues could be present from birth or happen later due to an injury, disease, or a medical condition. Some of the indications are early signs like jerking eyes, not following a face or an object, not making eye contact, or reacting to bright light. Getting frequent screenings of your baby in their first year can help detect any vision issues and treat them accordingly. Doing age-appropriate activities with your baby can help them with their developmental stages.
Each baby has different milestones of development to reach every few weeks or months as an infant.
When it comes to vision and recognizing things in front of them, this ability to focus on things and people kicks in around 4-5 weeks of age.
Around 6-8 weeks, an infant will recognize familiar faces and smile at them or react somehow. That’s when you know your baby’s vision development is going fine. But if this is where you notice they’re having trouble, then it could be the very first and earliest sign.
Visual impairment can happen at any age due to various factors, but when it comes to infant blindness, early signs and symptoms could indicate blindness.
Let’s look at these other early signs because an early diagnosis can lead to better treatment.
Vision issues in infants
Infants are born with 75 percent of their eyesight developed at birth, and the rest takes over gradually.
In fact, for the first two months of their life, the eyes might not even coordinate well. Nothing can be ascertained at this point.
It’s also considered normal and a part of development as their eyes may wander or cross.
Parents need to have a closer look to find these early signs. Not all signs could mean early blindness and could be confused with other eye issues.
An infant could be born with visual impairment at birth, known as a congenital issue, or may slowly lose their eyesight due to a disease, injury, or a medical condition.
Early diagnosis can help treat it better.
Sings of early blindness in infant
The difference between having a low vision and blindness is that low vision is when a child can’t see things as they should for their age.
In such cases, they might have a low vision, blurred, or partial sight, and they could also have color blindness.
In the case of blindness, they are considered legally blind if they can’t see at 6 meters while a child can see at 60 meters. Their field of vision is less than 20 degrees in diameter, whereas a person with normal vision can see 180 degrees.
Some of the early signs of blindness in an infant include:
- Eyes move quickly from side to side, jerk, or wander randomly
- Eyes don’t follow any face or an object
- Not making eye contact with family members and friends
- Not reacting to bright light in the room or a flashlight
- Their eyes might not seem crystal clear as infants but look white or cloudy
- Their eyes turn in towards their nose sometimes or all the time
Causes of early blindness in infant
Early blindness is quite tricky to notice, and parents usually come to know there’s an issue with their baby’s vision when they become a toddler.
There could be different factors involved in causing this visual impairment, or it could be due to congenital causes.
Early signs and symptoms might differ based on the causes. So let’s take a look at possible causes.
1. Congenital causes
Some babies may be visually impaired at birth, and it could be caused due to:
- A developmental or genetic disorder where their eyesight doesn’t have a chance to develop fully, and these vision issues include retinitis pigmentosa, albinism, or cataracts.
- Excessive alcohol intake during pregnancy. It can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, which causes developmental issues including blindness, visual impairment, droopy eyelids, abnormal or involuntary eye movement (nystagmus), or changes in the eyelids.
- During pregnancy, a possible infection including toxoplasmosis, other agents, rubella, cytomegalovirus, and herpes can cause inflammation and abnormalities of the eyes.
- Taking drugs during pregnancy, such as cocaine and seizure medications, may cause ocular malformation in babies. When babies are exposed to such drugs in the womb, they are more likely to be hospitalized for eye disorders, such as strabismus, binocular movement disorders, and ocular muscle disorders.
2. Retinopathy of prematurity
It’s an eye disorder caused by abnormal blood vessel growth in premature infants’ light-sensitive parts of the eyes (retina).
It affects premature babies born before 31 weeks of pregnancy and weighing 2.75 pounds or less at birth.
It should be resolved on its own, but when it reaches an advanced level where the abnormal retinal vessels extend into the jellylike substance that fills the center of the eye, it might cause permanent vision issues or blindness.
The treatment depends on the severity of the condition but is treated using a combination of traditional therapy and drugs such as laser therapy, cryotherapy, and medications.
3. Ophthalmia neonatorum
It’s newborn conjunctivitis that occurs in the first month of their life. It’s a bacterial, chlamydial, or viral infection acquired during passage through an infected birth canal.
A common agent to cause this infection is one that’s sexually acquired by the mother that’s chlamydia trachomatis. Babies born with untreated chlamydia have a 30 to 50 percent chance of developing it.
4. Lazy eye
It’s the leading cause of decreased vision among children, which develops from birth up to age 7 years.
It’s defined as a reduced vision in one eye caused by abnormal visual development early in life. The signs may include:
- An eye that wanders inwards or outward
- Eyes that appear not to work together
- Poor depth reception
- Squinting or shutting an eye
- Head tilting
- Abnormal results of vision screening tests
A lazy eye typically develops because of abnormal visual experience in the child’s early life that changes the nerve pathways between a thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye and the brain.
It could also be caused by risk factors associated with birth.
The crossed eye is where both eyes do not line up in the same direction.
For someone with this disorder, their eye muscles don’t work together as one eye looks at one object and the other eye at another thing or direction.
It could be due to a family history of this disorder, farsightedness, or any other disease that causes vision loss.
6. Shaken baby syndrome
It’s a severe brain injury in an infant which results from forcefully shaking them. Also known as abusive head trauma, shaken impact syndrome, inflicted head injury, or whiplash shaken infant syndrome.
Even a brief shaking of the infant can cause irreversible brain damage and cause various medical issues in an infant or toddler, such as:
- Partial or total blindness
- Developmental delays like learning problems or behavior issues
- Intellectual disability
- Seizure disorder
- Cerebral palsy
Treatment would require several tests of the infant, including a skeletal survey, eye exam, blood tests, MRI, and CT scan to see how severe their condition is and treat it accordingly.
What can parents do?
The first step toward helping your infant is to look at their developmental delays. Noticing the early signs is vital for early diagnosis and treatment.
Specific causes for this vision impairment will have different treatments depending on their severity. Parents can also help their infants by working with them to do various age-appropriate activities.
These activities will encourage an infant falling into the age category of 0-4 months in their development, such as:
- Using a nightlight or other dim lamp in the baby’s room.
- Changing their crib position frequently and their position as well.
- Keeping their toys within touch and close to them. So they can focus on the colors and feel of the toys.
- Talk to your baby frequently and help them recognize you or see you as much as possible.
- Talk to them while in the same room when you’re moving around so their eyes can move you back and forth.
- Alternate right a left sides with each feeding.
For older babies falling into the category of 5 to 8 months, you can:
- Hang a mobile or have a crib gym with various objects and toys to pull or grab.
- Give your baby time to play with toys and explore them as much as possible.
- Give them blocks to build. Sit down and stack blocks so they can mimic your actions in building one.
- Play other games such as making fake things or hand games with your baby.
- Introduce solids in a way that’s comfortable for your baby.
With the help of various specialists such as orthoptists, orientation and mobility specialists, occupational therapists, counselors, and special education teachers, you can help your infant find the proper treatment and improve their vision.
Importance of eye exam for infant
Sometimes we might not be able to see those signs in our infant, or they might not be present from birth but start developing later on, which brings the importance of an eye exam.
When your baby turns 6 months old, it’s necessary to take them for an eye exam to a doctor of optometry and get a thorough examination done.
They will test your baby for nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism. They will be examined for their eyes’ overall health, including eye movement ability and alignment.
If there’s an issue with their eyes that you could have missed being in the initial stage, your doctor will be able to detect it and help you start with early treatment before things get severe for your baby.
InfantSEE is a public health program by the American Optometric Association designed to ensure eye care and vision for babies between 6 to 12 months of age.
The participating doctors of optometry provide a comprehensive infant eye assessment as a no-cost public service.
How can I tell if my newborn can see?
If your newborn isn’t visually impaired at birth, vision issues can arise due to different causes.
During the first few months of their life, their development can be traced through various activities.
They start tracking objects and movements during the first months of life or recognizing things around them. Their hand-eye coordination starts developing.
By eight weeks, they can begin to focus on people around them and acknowledge the presence of people.
What can a one-month-old newborn see?
A one-month-old baby can see things that are up close to their face. Their range of vision is limited to 8 to 12 inches, and their eyes might cross too.
How do you know if the baby needs glasses?
When your infant reaches the age of 4 months, they start to focus on things around them, and if they aren’t able to do so, they may have a problem.
They should be able to see and move their head with moving objects.
If you detect visual impairment in your newborn, the most important thing as a parent is to have the patience to deal with it.
Vision issues can develop at any age, and while you might feel you’re alone in this, you’re not. Joining different support groups online via face-to-face can help you in various ways.
It’s vital not to make your baby feel alone in this, including your other children. Being more focussed on your infant with vision issues can make your other children think differently or feel unloved.
Your infant’s eyes are still developing for the first year of their life. But getting their vision checked several times can help detect any issues.
If any problems are detected, a timely and early screening can help treat them better.
As parents, you should help your baby by doing age-appropriate activities with them.