Signs that indicate eye problems in babies

Key Points

  • Babies and toddlers can experience a range of eye problems: some common ones your may encounter are a turned eye, teary or watery eyes, conjunctivitis (pink or red eyes) and vision problems
  • An optometrist or ophthalmologist will be able to assess your baby or toddler and provide treatment as needed.

In this article

In their early years, being aware of a child's vision and eye  health is important, as infants and toddlers can’t tell us what they’re seeing or if anything is wrong, except by crying. This article will go through key indicators that may require you to see an eye care professional (optometrist or ophthalmologist) to ensure that your baby or toddler develops clear vision and healthy eyes. 

Turned eye

For the first four months of life, a baby’s eyes might look a little cross-eyed and their eye movements may not look smooth.1 This is because their binocular vision (using both eyes together) system is still maturing, and is normal.

However, you may want to get your baby or toddler assessed by an optometrist or eye doctor  if you notice any of the following:

  • Outward turning eye (constant or intermittent, meaning not always visible)
  • Inward turning eye (constant or intermittent, persisting or starting after 4 months of age)
  • Unusual head position, or frequent closing of one eye2
  • Family history of turned eye or lazy eye2

Eye turns are sometimes hard to detect – a baby may look like they have an eye turn because of their small face and relatively flat, wide nose bridge. Eye turns can mean that one or both eyes do not develop normal clarity of vision, so it’s always good to get any suspicions cleared up by an optometrist or eye doctor.

Teary or watery eyes

During the first year, it is common for infants to experience teary or watery eyes, which is not always occuring with crying. This normal bodily process involving development of tear production within the first 12 months, frequently associated with the obstruction of the drainage system from the eyes and into the nasal passages —a common occurrence in this early stage of life.3 If this is persisting beyond 12 months of age, then it’s a good idea to see an optometrist or ophthalmologist for an opinion. Signs to look out for are:

  • Excessively watery eyes, in the absence of crying
  • Crust formation on the eyelids
  • Swelling of the eyelids
  • Yellow or green discharge vislble at the inner corner of the eye
  • Redness of the eyelids or the white of the eye


Conjunctivitis is a general term for inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva. This is the layer of tissue covering the visible white part of the eye. It can be known as ‘pink eye’ or seen as red eyes. There are many different types of conjunctivitis, and they can occur in newborns as well as toddlers. Signs to look out for are:

  • Yellow or green discharge visible at the inner corner of the eye Watery discharge (eyes more watery than normal)
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Red eyelids
  • Red eyes
  • Crusting of the eyelids (eyelids may get stuck together)
  • Rapid worsening of any of the above

These signs include bacterial, viral and allergic types of conjunctivitis. If you notice any of these, it’s important to seek urgent attention from an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

Vision problems

Your baby does not have clear vision as soon as they’re born, as this develops over time. Our article How Vision Develops in Babies and Toddlers <TO DO: add link> gives a comprehensive guide on vision development and things you may observe in your baby,  based on their age. However, some signs that there may be vision problems in your baby or toddler are:

  • Not responding to brightly coloured objects
  • Not responding to facial expressions
  • Difficulty maintaining eye contact
  • Squinting
  • Closing one eye often 

Things to remember

Your baby or toddler is undergoing a time in their lives of constant change as they grow and learn about the world. It’s important to ensure their vision and eye health develops normally. Watching for these signs will help you determine if there’s any need for concern, and hopefully prompt you to seek an appointment for your baby with an optometrist or ophthalmologist (eye doctor) should they occur. If your baby or toddler does not have any of these signs, you can still see your optometrist or eye doctor for a check-up, to ensure theirs eyes are developing normally for their age.

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