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Babies can have one form of eye problem or the other. Some of these eye problems are hereditary (inherited from one or both parents of the child) or could be caused by accidents that resulted in injuries to the eyes while the child is in the womb. These eye problems manifest either as the child is born or within the first few months or years of his or her early life. They are referred to as “birth defects of the eyes.”

If not detected and treated early, these birth defects can cause permanent damage to the eyes as the child grows. A mutation in certain genes in the baby or the mother can cause some of these birth defects. Others can result from the use of certain drugs by the mother, alcohol intake while pregnant, or an infection the mother had during pregnancy.

Birth Defects

Below is a list of some birth defects that can be found in newborn babies and toddlers.

  • Hypotelorism (eyes that are closely spaced).
  • Anophthalmia (total absence of one or both eyeballs).
  • Microphthalmia (a smaller than normal eyeball). It may affect one or both eyes.
  • Hypertelorism (extremely widely spaced eyes, which can occur in several congenital syndromes (a group of defects present at birth that occur together).
  • Coloboma (the absence of a piece of tissue in any part of one or both eyes such as the eyelid, iris, retina or optic nerve).

Detection and Treatment

Doctors can identify some of these eye defects before birth by either carrying out an ultrasound or by taking a blood sample for genetic testing. After birth, eye defects can be identified when carrying out a physical eye check-up on babies. Just like other eye-related diseases, early detection and prompt treatment of birth defects are essential to avoid lifelong visual impairment.

The eyes should be examined at the first neonatal check-up, at the six-week check-up session, and at every other time that the child visits the hospital for a routine check-up. Any child that is discovered to have an ocular abnormality should immediately be referred to an ophthalmologist who specialises in paediatric patients.