Red eye can be a photographic annoyance. Nowadays, even the most rudimentary photography software provides filters to remove it.
But if red eye never shows up in your children’s photographs, it might be a sign of a rare but serious form of eye cancer.
The cancer is called retinoblastoma (RB), and it is characterized by tumors that form inside the eye. It appears in about 350 babies and toddlers every year. Now, some Texas researchers believe that parents may be soon able to take the lead in spotting potential eye problems armed only with their smartphones.
Red eye appears in photographs when the camera flash reflects off the retina. Light from a healthy retina appears red or orange. But in the unhealthy eye, pupils appear white in flash photography.
Dr. Michael Hunt, a Fort Worth, Texas ophthalmologist, said white eye “can be anything from a problem with the cornea, to the eye being cloudy, or a problem with the retina or optic nerve.”
Interestingly, the link between lack of red eye and retinoblastoma was discovered not by researchers, but by parents of child diagnosed with the disease. Matt and Becky Foreman are parents of twin girls, Makenzie and Madison. When the girls were 6 months old, the Foremans began to notice that one of Makenzie’s eyes wasn’t developing like the other and had a “hollow” appearance. When physicians examined the eye, they discovered the RB and determined Makenzie would need chemotherapy and there was a chance the eye would have to be removed.
Looking back through their babies’ pictures for indications they might have missed something that would have warned them of their daughter’s condition, the Foremans noticed that Makenzie’s pupils appeared white, while Madison’s had the red glow.
Now a Baylor University chemist, whose son has RB, is trying to develop an app for the IPhone and IPad that will screen for the disease.
Not every instance of “white eye” is indicative of RB, so Baylor researchers are asking parents to submit photos with examples of red eye and white eye to their project so they can train the app to detect false positives. Photos can be sent to Bryan_Shaw@Baylor.edu.