Can a camera flash really cause blindness in a baby?
"Camera flash blindness": true or false? And how should you be looking after your little one's eye health, anyway? Find out in this article...
You may have read news reports about a baby who reportedly suffered from blindness in one eye and partial blindness in the other, after a camera flash went off in close proximity to his eyes.
At theAsianparent, we wanted to find out if “camera flash blindness” is in fact an actual medical condition. After all, we all love snapping gorgeous close-ups of our kids and we certainly don’t want any harm to come to them because of this.
So we did some research of our own on this topic and eye health in general for kids. We also spoke to Dr Zena Lim, the Medical Director of the Children’s Eye and ENT Centre, for her expert opinion on these matters.
De-bunking the myth
“I would like to debunk the myth that an occasional camera flash/ bright light can damage a baby’s eyes or eyesight,” says Dr Zena.
To put things in perspective, she uses the example of the “indirect ophthalmoscope” that is used by ophthalmologists on children for eye consultations or screening examinations. The ophthalmoscope is used to illuminate into the eye to check the retina, and the light that it emits is very bright.
However, even with multiple examinations (if required for an eye problem) this bright light does not damage a baby’s retina or eyesight… and neither will the occasional camera flash.
Dr Zena cautions that what can damage a baby’s eyesight and retina is medical grade laser in certain wavelengths—you certainly should not be using this type of laser light anywhere near your baby.
What a photo taken with a flash can potentially reveal
A white or yellowish glow in one eye of your child in photographs taken with the flash, could be a sign of an eye condition, such as cataract. In some cases, such as for British toddler Taylor Treadwell, the glow was an indication of childhood eye cancer.
If you do notice anything unusual in this manner in your child’s eyes in photos (or otherwise), please consult an eye doctor to rule out any eye health issues.
Research also indicates that a photograph taken of your older child with the flash on can actually show if his eyes are properly aligned, when it causes the “red-eye” effect. Usually with the “red-eye” effect, both eyes glow red in photographs. But if only one of your child’s eyes glows red, it may indicate that he has misaligned eyes, or strabismus.
Don’t be too concerned though if you notice one of your newborn baby’s eyes occasionally drifts inwards or outwards away from proper alignment. Experts say this is perfectly normal and not a cause for concern. You should consult a medical professional only if this misalignment is constant.
Kids’ eyes and light sensitivity
If you have a newborn, you might be wondering about how sensitive to light his eyes actually are. Not that much really, at least in the the first month of life, say experts.
In fact, “the amount of light required for a 1-month-old infant to be aware that light is present (called the light detection threshold) is 50 times higher than that of an adult.”
Dr Zena, elaborating further, explains that “every individual has different personal thresholds to bright light, meaning that for a certain level of light, some individuals may be able to tolerate the level, while others find the light too bright and experience photosensitivity.” This is true for babies, too.
However, certain eye conditions—such as viral conjunctivitis, eye allergies, eye abrasions, and inflammatory eye conditions—can make a little one temporarily more sensitive to light.
A condition known as photophobia can also cause extreme sensitivity to light. If a child has this condition, then any type of light source (sunlight, fluorescent light, incandescent light) can cause discomfort, typically causing the child to squint or close his eyes.
Experts say that while symptoms such as headache and nausea are often associated with photophobia, these symptoms may be worse with bright light.
Signs of eyesight problems in your little one
It’s always good for mums and dads to know what signs to look out for that could indicate an issue with their child’s eyesight.
Here are some things to look out for, according to Dr Zena:
- The inability to follow movements and fix eyes on objects well, after three months of age.
- Eye misalignment (“squint”), where one eye seems to be focused while the other is either deviated inward, outward or sometimes upward, occurring after three months of age.
- Roving eye movements at birth or early after birth.
- In an older child, difficulty with navigating obstacles and/or tripping over objects.
- Excessive tearing, which may indicate blocked tear ducts.
- Red or crusty eye lids, which could be a sign of an eye infection.
- “Wandering” eyes, which may signal poor vision, or a problem with eye muscle control.
- Extreme sensitivity to light, which could indicate elevated pressure in the eye, or childhood glaucoma.
Tips for parents on eye care for kids
You now know that occasional bright lights are not harmful to your child’s eyes. However, there are other conditions, like myopia, where your child’s eyes may need protection from light, especially from sun exposure.
Dr Zena points out that if your child has myopia and his pupils are constantly dilated due to treatment with atropine eye drops, then it’s most likely that he would need photochromic lenses (i.e. lenses which darken or lighten according to the sun exposure).
“These lenses will protect your child’s eyes from ultraviolet radiation and provide the correct amount of protection for the varying light conditions”, says Dr Zena.
If your child also spends a lot of time outdoors, then you should consider getting him sunglasses with UV protection. This would offer protection from long term high exposure to UV rays that have been linked to cataract and age-related macular degeneration.
Also, try to limit your child’s daily exposure to electronic devices as this can result in a condition known as digital eye strain, that has become more and more common in this digital age.
When it comes to babies and their eye health, Dr Zena shares these tips:
- Premature babies may develop a condition known as retinopathy of prematurity, and because of this, need regular and follow-up eye screenings.
- Babies with a family history of significant or hereditary eye conditions should also be taken for regular eye screenings.
- While it is widely believed that high-contrast patterns are good to stimulate your baby’s vision, it is also known that babies can distinguish subtler shades of gray and other colours. Therefore, a normal visual environment without black, red, and white toys can in itself be rich and stimulating. So, mums, don’t hesitate to consider gorgeous pastel shades when decorating your little one’s room!
Mums and dads, we hope you’ve found this article useful. And keep snapping those beautiful shots of your little ones—they’re only this small for such a short time! But if you think your little one has a problem with his eyes or eyesight, do not hesitate to consult a medical professional.
Does your child suffer from myopia or other eye conditions? Tell us how you first noticed the condition by leaving a comment below.