How Photos of Your Child Can Help Detect Eye Disease

The red reflex can provide clues to your child's eye health
How Photos of Your Child Can Help Detect Eye Disease

Most of us take photos of our kids and grandkids because they make us smile. But these photos also can provide useful — or even life-saving — information about your loved one’s eye health.

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Photos can indicate eye problems through the reflection of the camera flash off the eye’s blood-rich retina, which is known as the red reflex. The red reflex is what we commonly refer to in photos as red-eye.

Your child’s pediatrician should check for red reflex at every wellness visit with an ophthalmoscope.

What to look for

If your child’s eyes are looking straight at the camera and the color in both eyes is red, in most cases that’s a good indication that the retinas of both eyes are unobstructed and healthy, says opthalmologist Allison Babiuch, MD.

“If you shine a light on their eyes, or you take a picture, there should be a nice, red reflex through the pupil, which is the black center area of the eye,” Dr. Babiuch says. “If you don’t see the same red reflex in both eyes, that could be a sign of a problem.”

Here, according to Dr. Babiuch, are two signs to watch out for in your child’s photos:

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When one eye does not appear red, or is dimmer than the other, it can indicate strabismus. This is a condition in which the eyes do not look at the same place at the same time. Treatment for strabismus may include eyeglasses, covering the strong eye with a patch, or eye muscle surgery. If detected and treated early, strabismus often can be corrected.

If the pupil appears white, it can be a clue to several serious eye disorders, including cataracts, retinal detachment or infections inside the eye. It also can be a warning sign of retinoblastoma, a very rare cancer of the eye. Retinoblastoma is curable 90 percent of the time.

If there’s a problem

Have your child evaluated as soon as possible if you consistently notice an abnormal red reflex. Early detection for the most serious cases increases the likelihood that treatments will be effective, Dr. Babiuch says.

The most important thing that parents need to be on the lookout for is a difference in light reflection between the two eyes, she says.

“While a white cloudy spot on the pupil isn’t always the sign of disease, the chance of saving your child’s eye — or life — is worth the trip to the eye doctor,” she says.

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Check your camera settings

It helps to use a camera with a flash, Dr. Babiuch says, but it’s also important to check the camera’s settings first to help avoid false alarms and worry.

“Now when you take pictures with a camera it often automatically gets rid of the red reflex,” Dr. Babiuch says. “So if you see no red reflex, check your camera first and see if you’ve switched the red reflex off, because we have a lot of parents come in and say there’s no red reflex, and it was the camera.”

It’s important for parents to be vigilant because even the most serious eye conditions don’t typically cause children pain or visual impairment in early stages, Dr. Babiuch says.

In most cases children seldom complain if one eye is working normally, even when something is wrong.

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