Seen a white glow in a photograph?

Seeing a white glow

Seeing a white glow in the eye of a child in a photograph can be really worrying. You may have seen it in a photo of your own little one, or you’ve spotted it in a friend’s photo and you’re worried about what to say.

Here we’ve answered some of the most frequently asked questions around the white glow, what causes it and what to do if you see it:

What causes white eye in photographs?

Sometimes, when a photo of a child is taken using a flash, one (or both) of the eyes looks like it has a white glow or reflection in it. This is different to the usual “red eye” and is known as a “white reflex”.

This may appear in lots of photos of the child or you may only see it in one photo. You may also be able to see it with the naked eye (ie not in photos) when they are in a darkened room.

There are several causes of this, and the most common one is simply a light shining off the optic nerve. This happens when light entering the eye at a certain angle is reflected, causing a white eye effect and is totally harmless.

However, the white reflex could be a sign of something more serious including, occasionally, retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer that affects babies and young children mainly under the age of six.

It’s very important to remember that retinoblastoma is rare and only affects around 50 children a year in the UK. There are other, much more likely causes of this white eye effect.

However, we urge parents who have seen the white reflex in their child’s eyes to get it checked out as soon as possible just to rule out anything serious.

For more information about the white reflex, please see our page what causes white eye? You can also see some examples of white eye below:

a white glow in the eye
white glow in pupil of eye
Evie has a white glow in her eye

My child has a white glow in their eye, what do I do now?

Firstly, the important thing to remember is that retinoblastoma is very rare, and there are other, more likely, causes of white eye.

However, we do urge you to get your child’s eyes checked out urgently just to be safe. You can take them to your GP, a local optician or a hospital ophthalmology A&E or walk-in department to have their eyes examined. Even if you have spoken to someone on the phone, it is important that your child is seen in person, as the healthcare professional will need to examine their eyes carefully. This will be done by carrying out a red reflex test (see below), which involves shining a light directly into the eyes. This is not possible on a video call.

Some opticians don’t test babies and really young children so you may have to try a few before you find one who is happy to check your child’s eyes for you. As retinoblastoma is very rare, you may also need to explain why you are concerned and what you would like the healthcare professional to do.

For more information about this, including advice on what to take with you to your appointment, please have a look at our what is Rb page.

You can also read more about retinoblastoma and all the signs and symptoms on our what is Rb page. Retinoblastoma has one of the best survival rates of all childhood cancers but early diagnosis is really important.

I’ve seen a white glow in a friend’s photo. Should I say anything?

Seeing a white glow in a photo of someone else’s child can be very worrying – on one hand you don’t want to cause unnecessary concern by speaking up, but on the other hand you don’t want any potential problems to go unnoticed.

We often hear from people who have seen something unusual in a photo of a friend or relative’s child on social media and they are not sure what to do. We would urge you to tell them that you have seen the white reflex and share a link to this page for more information: chect.org.uk/whiteeye

You can also explain that retinoblastoma is very rare and that this could be something or nothing at all, but that they should get it checked out. And please do share our contact details if you or your friend would like to contact us to talk it through: 020 7377 5578 or support@chect.org.uk. We are here to help.