Microphthalmia: Definition, Causes, Diagnosis and Associated Conditions

What is Microphthalmia?

When a baby develops in the uterus sometimes not all of its parts grow completely. If an eye does not grow to its full size and is smaller than it should be, this is known as microphthalmia. If the eye does not grow at all, this is known as anophthalmia.


Most cases of microphthalmia occur by chance, although it is known that some cases occur in family groups. Very rarely an infection in the uterus can lead to microphthalmia.

It can often be seen along with other eye conditions. There is no good evidence that microphthalmia is caused by prescription or recreational medications.


Microphthalmia can be diagnosed in the ophthalmology clinic during an examination by an ophthalmologist. The eye can be measured, often by ultrasound. If it is smaller than normal, then it is diagnosed as microphthalmia.

How does Microphthalmia affect a child’s vision?

Most young children will feel that their vision is “normal” since they have never known anything other than their own visual world.

At first, they assume that everyone else has a vision equal to theirs. They do not realize that other people see things differently.

Microphthalmia can affect vision in different ways. If the eye is only a little smaller than normal, then the child can have normal vision.

If both eyes have almost not grown correctly, then the child may have a more severe visual impairment. You can only see bright lights and large shapes.

Children with milder forms of microphthalmia tend to be long-sighted (farsightedness). They can benefit from the use of glasses.

Sometimes, children can develop rapid eye movements (nystagmus). Squinting can also develop.

Is there any condition associated with Microphthalmia?

Sometimes, in addition to the fact that the eye is smaller than normal, other parts of the eye do not grow properly. This can cause problems with:

  • High pressure in the eye (Glaucoma)
  • A cloudy lens (Cataract)
  • Poor vision because the retina does not work correctly

Occasionally, when the baby is in the womb, the parts of the face and mouth do not grow properly. The most common problem is the cleft palate where the nose or lips are not formed correctly.

Microphthalmia can sometimes also be associated with learning difficulties.

How can doctors help?

Patching the child’s best eye can encourage the poorer eye to develop better vision. Sometimes children with microphthalmia need glasses to see more clearly.

This is because it can be of long vision. Contact lenses or glasses can be used to improve the appearance of a small eye.

Operations can correct growth abnormalities of the face and lips, such as the cleft palate.

If other problems develop, such as cataracts or glaucoma, an ophthalmologist can offer you treatment to help you. This can be by using drops or performing operations.

How can parents, family, friends and teachers make a difference?

Many things can be done to help children with microphthalmia to see better. We use our vision to move, learn new things, meet other people and make friends.

Most children with microphthalmia give the impression that their vision is normal. However, it is important to consider what your child’s particular vision problems might be.

If your child has been prescribed glasses, contact lenses or a low visual aid, it is important that you are encouraged to use them frequently. This will help your child see more clearly and ensure that the vision parts of the brain grow and develop correctly.

Wearing a hat and tinted glasses can also help reduce the problems of bright light. If your child has been prescribed drops, you should use them regularly as advised by the nurses and ophthalmology clinic doctors.

Problems at school may be due to the fact that some of the reading books are difficult to see. This often means that it takes more time and more effort to do the job.

If the size of the print is increased and the letters and words are more widely spaced, most children will find school work easier.

Good bright lighting and a crisp black print on a clean white background will also make things easier.

It is also worth looking carefully to discover which are the smallest toys that a child can see and play with. Then try to play only with toys of the same size or larger.

Placing a toy on a flat background will often help children see it more easily. Placing many toys of different sizes and colors together on a patterned background can make them ‘invisible’ for some children.

Recognizing facial expressions can often be difficult. It is worth trying to find out how far you can see and respond to facial expressions.

Then always try to talk and smile from this distance. This helps the child learn what facial expressions mean and copy them.

Babies and toddlers need to learn about the world around them. Home visiting teachers, physiotherapists, and occupational and speech therapists can contribute to the care and education of the child.

It is important to continue the programs they recommend. If the child participates in family activities, the vision can improve and develop new skills.

Even if a child has a very poor vision, many useful and practical things can be done to improve the child’s ability to move, interact with other children and learn.

What we see is produced in the brain from the signals given by the eyes. What we see is actually done in the brain. The brain looks at the signals that the eyes give it.