Baby Photos With White Eye Instead of Red Eye Might Be Cancer…

posted in: Parenting | 6

So, you’re probably familiar with red eye …it’s that pesky red dot that appears in photos when you use the on camera flash. Red eye is normal — the flash is reflecting off your retina.  What’s not normal, though, is if a child’s eyes look like a cats — “white eye” instead of red.  It could actually be the sign of a serious medical condition.

white eye
A child with a white eye reflection as a result of retinoblastoma. By J Morley-Smith (talk).Morleyj at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
I recently learned about “white eye” while at my pediatrician’s office for a newborn well visit. To paraphrase my pediatrician:

Do you know how sometimes you get red eyes in photos? If you ever see a photo where a kid has a white eye, they need to see their doctor right away to make sure it’s not cancer

I did a little research, and learned there are a number of serious eye diseases that can cause this white eye glow instead of red eye in a flash photo. There are two main ones:

  • Retinoblastoma (a rare childhood eye cancer)
  • Coats’ disease (a disorder where the blood vessels in the retina develop abnormally) .

You can learn more about retinoblastoma at Daisy’s Eye Cancer Fund page: What to Do Next.   You’ll find information on when there is cause for concern, and if the appearance of white eye in a photograph might simply be the flash capturing the optic nerve (usually if the white eye is an isolated occurrence). Retinoblastoma is pretty rare (11.8 cases per million kids, ages 0-4); if it’s caught early enough, it can sometimes be treated without vision loss. However, as Heather, one of my readers, pointed out:

Retinoblastoma cannot always be treated without vision loss no matter how early it is detected. Sometimes it develops in the womb, and by the time the baby is born, it will already have progressed too far. It will depend on the size and location of the tumors.

So, vision loss might not be avoidable, but the sooner it is diagnosed, the better. According to the awareness campainn, Know The Glow, it’s important to take immediate action, but usually pediatricians do screen for these sorts of diseases at infant well visits:
Baby Photos With White Eye …not Red Eye? Might Be Cancer. - BPhotoArt.com

If you believe you see a glow, you should obtain a referral immediately to a pediatric ophthalmologist for diagnosis and treatment. Pediatricians can easily screen for Coats’ Disease, Retinoblastoma, and a host of other serious vision disorders using a simple red reflex test. This test is generally performed by a child’s pediatrician at a well-child exam, preferably within the first two months.

So, there you have it.  This information was new to me, and I thought it was too important not to share.  I’ve included a few links below, including one where a family friend spotted this white-eye effect in photos of a young girl.  The earlier it is treated, the better the prognosis.

White Eye Resources

“Normal” Red Eye

I culled my archives looking for a sample of “normal” red eye, and finally had to resort to taking a new photo.  Guess I’m good at avoiding red eye for some reason ;).  Must be my photographic training.  So, that being said, here are my intentionally created red eye snapshots. {click on an image below to enter gallery view mode}

Red eye is typically more pronounced in individuals with blue eyes rather than brown.  Interesting tidbit, no?

6 Responses

  1. Heather
    | Reply

    Just an FYI: Retinoblastoma cannot always be treated without vision loss no matter how early it is detected. Sometimes it develops in the womb, and by the time the baby is born, it will already have progressed too far. It will depend on the size and location of the tumors.

    • Betsy Finn
      | Reply

      Thanks for pointing that out, Heather! I updated the article to clarify that, while early detection is always better, it may not prevent vision loss completely.

  2. Jennifer
    | Reply

    Thank you for pointing this out to parents! I think it’s good to be aware so you can catch things sooner rather than later.

    • Betsy Finn
      | Reply

      Agreed, Jennifer. I had no idea this was even something to look for when my first son was born.

  3. In an ironic way, this might be a good thing – the sooner you catch something like this, the more likely treatment will work. Thanks for sharing!

    • Betsy Finn
      | Reply

      Exactly, Emma. You hit the nail on the head.

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