Many eye problems come with age, but this is not always the case. Even newborn babies can have problems with their eyes. Some of these problems are congenital, or present at birth, and others can develop due to irritation, infection and other problems.
Congenital Newborn Eye Problems
A congenital problem is one that develops before a baby is born or shortly thereafter. Many newborn eye problems fall into this category. These can occur for many reasons including genetic problems or damage to the baby during development from infection or drugs. Some babies with these factors may develop congenital eye problems while other babies will not.
Defects of the Eye
One common congenital eye problem is a defect of the eye or any of its parts. For example a baby might have a condition known as microphthalmos which is a condition where one eye is smaller than the other and does not function properly. Newborns can have eye defects in almost any part of the eye. The eye may be too small or too large, there may be problems with the lens, cornea, iris or retina, the eyelids may be improperly formed, or there may be unexplained vision loss or abnormality. Anytime that a part of the eye is missing or not formed properly at birth it is a congenital newborn eye problem caused by a defect of the eye. The type of defect will determine the type of treatment, if any, that is needed.
Another common congenital problem is the presence of infant cataracts. Cataracts can occur at any age, although they are more commonly found in older adults. Cataracts occur when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy. When you look at something light is reflected into the eye. This light passes through the cornea and pupil to the lens. The lens acts much like a camera lens and focuses the light before passing it to the retina. When the lens is cloudy it makes it more difficult for the light to pass through and results in compromised vision. Infant cataracts are commonly found by a pediatrician at a regularly scheduled checkup. Surgery may be required to remove the cataract.
Ptosis is a condition that occurs when one or both eyelids do not develop properly. This causes the eyelid to droop. When a child has ptosis their eyelid may block vision in one or both of their eyes. If it is not corrected this can lead to the later development of amblyopia or lazy eye which can cause permanent vision loss.
Retinopathy of Prematurity
Premature infants may be born before their eyes are fully developed. Specifically the blood vessels that take blood and nutrients to the retina may be in need of further growth. After the baby is born these blood vessels may not grow properly and can damage the inside of the eye. Premature infants should have an eye exam during the first few weeks after birth to determine if this condition is present so that it can be corrected before further damage occurs.
Other Newborn Eye Problems
Other newborn eye problems may be caused by infection, irritation and other causes. These eye problems can still be serious and some will result in permanent vision loss if they are not treated properly.
Blocked Tear Duct
Some babies are born with a blocked tear duct. Tears drain from the eye using these ducts, so when one is blocked it may result in an overload of tears in the eye. Babies with this condition often get more eye infections than other babies and may need antibiotics. The tear duct will generally open itself up sometime in the first year. If it does not, surgery can correct the problem.
During birth an infant is exposed to any bacteria or virus found in the mother’s birth canal. This can cause eye infections after birth. Many newborns develop conjunctivitis (pink eye) shortly after birth. Most hospitals apply an antibiotic ointment to newborn eyes shortly after birth to lessen the occurrence of conjunctivitis. Sexually transmitted diseases can also pass into a newborn’s eyes through the birth canal. For example exposure to gonorrhea during birth can lead to a gonococcal opthamalia neonatorum infection. If this infection is not treated quickly permanent blindness can occur. Other newborns may develop eye irritation as a result of a reaction to the antibiotic ointment applied shortly after birth.
Protecting vision begins at birth. Parents need to pay attention to their newborn’s eyes. The baby’s doctor should be informed any time that there is a sign of infection or disease within the eye. Eye exams are also important from a young age to ensure that eye problems are discovered, diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible.
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