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What Is Microphthalmia?

An eye patch may be used to treat microphthalmia to encourage the weaker eye to become stronger.
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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2014
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Microphthalmia is a condition characterized by smaller-than-normal eyes. As most babies develop in their mothers’ wombs, all of their body parts grow to the expected size. Sometimes, however, something goes wrong, and the eyes fail to grow as large as they should be, resulting in microphthalmia. In some cases, the eyes may fail to grow altogether, and the resulting condition is referred to as anophthalmia.

The causes of microphthalmia aren’t fully understood. Often, cases seem to occur by pure chance. However, some with this condition go on to produce offspring with small eyes as well. Sometimes, a uterine infection leads to the condition, but such cases are very rare. Some people have speculated that it may be caused by the use of certain medications or illegal drugs, but this has not been proven.

Microphthalmia is typically diagnosed as the result of an ophthalmologist’s examination. The eye is measured and the condition is diagnosed if one or both eyes are smaller than normal. Sometimes the condition may be noticed soon after a baby is born and while he is still under hospital care. In other cases, parents may notice the difference after taking their babies home and watching the residual puffiness of childbirth fade away to leave obvious eye abnormalities.

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A young child with microphthalmia may not notice any difference in his vision, as he won’t have anything to compare it to. He will often think everyone sees things the same way he does. However, the unfortunate fact is this condition can have a significant effect on vision. Some children may have seriously impaired vision, others may see only bright lights, and still others may experience blindness. On the other hand, some children’s eyes may be only slightly smaller than normal and their vision may be considered normal, or close to it.

When a child has microphthalmia in a mild form, he is likely to have hypermetropia, or farsightedness. In such a case, correctional lenses may help him to see normally. Some children with the condition tend to squint quite a bit. Others may develop a condition called nystagmus, which is characterized by the quick movements of the eye from one side to the other.

Treatment of microphthalmia depends on its severity. Besides corrective lenses, eye patches may be used to encourage better vision development in the weaker eye. In some cases, surgery and other corrective measures may be indicated.

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