Our eyes are pretty important, right? And we all know what joy looking at photographs brings. Did you know that you could also discover one of 20 eye diseases as well? It’s something I have learnt about as I have developed my photography career, and I do look out for the signs as I am editing your gorgeous photos. Luckily, I have never had any reason to mention anything to parents of children I have photographed, but I do know of photographers who have. In the majority of cases, it’s resolved to be nothing, but you only get one chance of sight in life, so you can never be too careful!
September 24th-30th is National Eye Health Week and I have compiled a list of things you could look for in photographs of you, your friends and your children.
Image by The World Eye Cancer Hope charity, showing what 'the glow' can look like in photographs. Babies and young children can't tell you they are having sight difficulty, so it's even more important to be aware of some signs that could help them!
The Glow - What is it?
Medically known as leukocoria, ‘The Glow’ is an unusual reflection from the retina of the eye. It appears as a white, opaque, or yellow spot in the pupil of the eye in photos taken with flash. The Glow can indicate at least 20 different eye diseases and conditions. Here are a few…
- Amblyopia – Decreased eyesight due to miscommunication between the brain and the eye, commonly referred to as ‘lazy eye.’
- Brown Syndrome – Limited ability to look upward and inward in one eye because of problems with tendons behind the eye itself.
- Cataract – The development of a cloudy or opaque area behind the iris, which can distort and blur images.
- Choroidal Osteoma – A benign tumor beneath the retina, which causes vision loss by affecting the optic nerve or local circulation.
- Retinoblastoma – Cancer of the retina.
- Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) – Abnormal development of blood vessels in the retina among infants.
- Strabismus – Being “cross-eyed”: lacking the ability to simultaneously align both eyes.
- Trauma – Eye trauma, often the result of corneal abrasions and harmful foreign bodies entering the eye.
Whilst the glow cannot be diagnosed without the use of an optical device used by eye specialists, it sometimes appears as a white, opaque or yellow spot in the pupil of the eye in photos taken with flash. Many websites say ‘this should not be confused with the common red eye (red circle in the center of eyes) seen in some flash photography’, however if you are unsure I would definitely recommend asking an optician to take a look for you! Because no child (or adult) should go blind from a preventable eye disease.
10 things to remember, look out for and actions to take
Awareness is the most important thing. I haven’t written this article to scare you! Most white spots in eyes are nothing to be concerned about, but the reality is, so many cases go undiagnosed because people aren’t aware.
- Retinoblastoma in most common in children. 95% of cases are diagnosed in children younger than 5 years old.
- The majority of ‘white pupil photos’ show a normal optic nerve reflex, caused by a camera flash directly hitting the optic disc. This harmless reflection most often occurs when the eye is turned about 15° towards the nose.
- Retinoblastoma is the most serious condition causing white pupil in photos. Other conditions include cataract, coats disease, ocular albinism, anisometropia (a severe refractive error). All of these can be treated effectively with early diagnosis.
- Eye conditions that cause white pupil usually cause sight problems before the sign appears in flash photos. This prompts an affected adult to seek medical care.
- Very young children cannot tell you they are losing sight, and as they adjust very well to gradual sight loss, it’s not always noticed by those around them. Therefore, if white pupil appears repeatedly in a young child’s photos, both eyes should be checked promptly by a medical professional.
- If you see a white pupil in a flash photograph, use the PhotoRED technique. Learn the PhotoRED Technique
- If a white pupil appears repeatedly in photos taken with the PhotoRED technique, both eyes should be checked urgently by an optician to rule out serious eye conditions and threat to sight or life.
- If a white pupil appears in one photo, or multiple photos from the same angle, while all other photos appear normal, it is likely to be a normal optic nerve reflex.
- Smartphones frequently capture normal optic nerve reflex due to the type of flash used. They are not a reliable tool for red reflex screening photos.
- Most importantly, if you are concerned about white pupil in your child’s / your own photos, see an optician for a quick red reflex eye exam. This simply involves turning down the lights and shining an ophthalmoscope (looks like a hand held torch) into each eye.
There we go. Just in case you needed another reason to have your photographs printed and not leave them on memory cards, laptops or smartphones! Photographs are essentially for our future generations, as well as enjoyment now in more ways than one. We’ll save that debate for another blog, on another day…look after your eyes!