Three generations of women, including an infant, looking at a digital tablet
Three generations of women, including an infant, looking at a digital tablet

Infant Eye Conditions

Paying careful attention to baby’s eye development can help ensure that your infant’s eyes are developing properly.

Talk to your baby's pediatrician if you have any concerns or notice any of the symptoms below.

During the first two months, an infant’s eyes may appear to be crossed or to wander. This is usually normal and will correct itself as your baby’s vision continues to develop.

However, if an eye is constantly turning inward (toward the nose) or outward (away from the nose), evaluation by an eye doctor is warranted. Strabismus is a condition in which eyes appear misaligned or turn in opposite directions. This is not uncommon in babies, since their eyes are still learning to function as a unit.

Signs of Crossed Eyes

The most obvious sign of crossed eyes is when the eyes appear to be pointed in different directions. There are, however, more signs of crossed eyes that can most often be observed in children:

  • Eyes that do not move together
  • Unsymmetrical points of reflection in each eye
  • Tilting the head to one side
  • Inability to gauge depth
  • Squinting with only one eye

Treatment for Crossed Eyes

Crossed eyes are easier to correct when caught early. If the problem persists after your baby reaches four months old, connect with your eye doctor to discuss a treatment plan. One of several treatment options may be recommended based on the child’s age and eye alignment.


Amblyopia (also known as “lazy eye”) is a condition which causes one eye to have poorer vision than the other. Amblyopia begins in childhood and is the most common cause of vision loss in kids, but early treatment works well and may help prevent long-term vision loss.

Symptoms of Amblyopia

Symptoms of this condition may be difficult to notice. Children with amblyopia may have poor depth perception (have difficulty telling how near or far something is). Other symptoms that parents and caregivers may notice include:

  • Squinting
  • Shutting one eye
  • Tilting their head

Treatment for Amblyopia

If a vision problem is causing amblyopia, your eye doctor may treat that first. For example, they may recommend glasses or contacts (for children who are nearsighted or farsighted) or surgery (for children with cataracts). The next step is to retrain the brain by forcing it to use the weaker eye. These treatments may include:

  • Placing an eye patch over the stronger eye to strengthen the weaker eye
  • Using blurring medication eye drops in the stronger (good) eye to temporarily blur the vision and force use of the weaker eye, helping to strengthen it over time
Pediatric or Congenital Cataracts

Most people associate cataracts only with aging, but infants and children can also get cataracts (known as pediatric cataracts).

Normally, babies are born with a transparent lens in each eye. The lens focuses objects on the retina, making it possible for the eye to see. Instead of a transparent lens, some babies are born with a milky white lens. Cataracts in children can be congenital (present at birth) or acquired (developing over time in infants, children and adolescents).

Symptoms of Congenital Cataracts:

Treatment for Congenital Cataracts:

  • Surgery for cataracts in babies is much like it is for adults, involving the removal of the affected lens in the eye. When performed by an experienced surgeon, cataract removal is generally safe
    • The need for cataract surgery will depend on whether or not your child’s vision is affected. This will be determined by your eye doctor
  • Post-surgery, most children will need to wear glasses or contact lenses
  • In some cases, a clear plastic lens called an intraocular lens (IOL) is inserted during operation
  • Many doctors choose contact lenses as a more practical solution for babies after cataract surgery

Left untreated, congenital cataracts can damage the connection between the brain and the eyes. Once developed, these connections don’t change and can cause serious conditions ranging from "lazy eye" (amblyopia) to vision loss. Early detection and swift treatment are paramount to your child’s eye health.

Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)

Conjunctivitis is an irritation of the eye from infection or allergy. If not due to an allergy, it can be the result of a bacterial or viral infection (both are contagious and easily spread). This condition causes inflammation and irritation of the outer membrane of the eye and the inner eyelid.

Symptoms of Pink Eye:

  • Red, irritated eyes
  • Itchy eyes
  • Teary eyes
  • Sticky discharge

Treatment for Pink Eye

While “pink eye” usually goes away on its own in about a week, it’s important that you keep your child home from school or daycare if they have contagious conjunctivitis. Symptoms can often be controlled at home, but a doctor may need to prescribe antibacterial eye drops. Check with your pediatrician if you notice any of the symptoms. The pediatrician can determine the underlying cause of pink eye and recommend the proper course of treatment.

Vibrating Eyes (Nystagmus)

Nystagmus is a condition where the eyes move rapidly and uncontrollably. It can be congenital (present at birth) or acquired (developing over time). When a baby’s eyes seem to jump, vibrate back and forth or move in a way that looks unusual to you, this is a signal that the eyes' motor system may not be developing normally. Congenital nystagmus is sometimes inherited, so tell your pediatrician or eye doctor during your baby’s first eye examination if nystagmus runs in your family.

Symptoms of Vibrating Eye:

  • Rapid, involuntary eye movements
    • Usually side to side movement, but it can also be up and down or circular and vary between slow and fast
  • Trouble seeing clearly
  • Extreme sensitivity to light
  • Dizziness
  • Holding the head in a turned or tilted position

Nystagmus needs to be diagnosed by an eye doctor.

Treatment for Vibrating Eye

Treating nystagmus depends on the type and cause. People born with nystagmus cannot be cured of the condition but may benefit from:

  • Glasses or contact lenses, which may help provide clearer vision and slow the eye movements
  • The American Nystagmus Networklink-out icon, which provides a great deal of information on this condition
Blocked Tear Duct

It’s estimated that roughly 20% of newborns have a blocked tear duct. It is a condition that is usually resolved on its own within four to six months. With a blocked tear duct, tears do not drain normally, which can cause a watery, irritated or infected eye.

Symptoms of Blocked Tear Ducts:

  • Frequent watering of the eyes
  • Crusting or discharge around the eye, especially first thing in the morning

Treatment for Blocked Tear Ducts:

  • Most cases will resolve on their own within your baby’s first year
  • Your eye doctor or pediatrician may show you a special massage technique to help open the tear duct
  • If symptoms last beyond then, a minor, generally painless surgical procedure can be performed to open the duct


A child might not be able to tell you their vision is blurry, and symptoms can go unnoticed by parents or caregivers. Protect your child’s vision with regular screening and eye exams.

Primary Congenital Glaucoma

Congenital glaucoma is when babies are born with a problem in the eyes that keeps fluid from draining properly. Very rarely, a baby will be born with glaucoma—only about one in 10,000 babies born in the United States have it. It occurs when the pressure in the eye (known as intraocular pressure or IOP) is above the range considered normal, which can be measured by an eye doctor.

Signs of Primary Congenital Glaucoma:

  • Extreme sensitivity to bright lights or sunshine (known as photophobia)
  • Teary eyes
  • Cloudy eyes
  • Eyes that appear larger than normal

Treatment for Primary Congenital Glaucoma

Surgery to treat congenital glaucoma generally works well. Early detection and treatment are paramount to your baby’s eye health. Medical therapy may be used to help control IOP and clear the cornea prior to surgery, but most of the relevant medications are not approved for use in children. Surgery is the main treatment option. If surgery is performed early, babies usually won’t have any permanent vision loss. The main surgical treatment options include:

  • Goniotomy
  • Trabeculotomy

Both of these procedures have high success rates of up to 90% or greater.

Eye Issues in Premature Babies

Premature babies’ eyes may develop more slowly than babies who are delivered at full term. Length of term is important information for eye care providers.

Premature babies are more at risk for retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a medical condition that requires treatment. In certain cases, laser treatment can reduce or prevent the risk of blindness in these children.

The National Eye Institutelink-out icon, a division of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), provides a great deal of information about this condition.