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Bright Futures

Articles and Updates from Phoenix Children's

December 03, 2020
Know the Glow: Identifying Retinoblastoma in Holiday Photos

The red-eye effect is a common nuisance in photos – it’s the result of a camera flash in dim light – but few people know that a photograph showing a white or yellow glow in a child's eye could signal a serious eye disease.

It’s the time of year for holiday photos – and a time that parents might spot that telltale glow in their child’s eyes. Here, we provide information for “Knowing the Glow,” including what to do if you see something worrisome in your daughter or son’s photograph.

Recognizing the “Glow”

The Glow, medically known as leukocoria, is an abnormal reflection from the retina of the eye. In photos taken with flash, it appears as a white, opaque or yellowish spot in the pupil of the eye. One in 80 children may show the glow before age 9.

What it Means

The glow could be an indication of more than 20 different eye diseases and conditions. While none of these conditions can be diagnosed without the aid of an optical device used by an optometrist or ophthalmologist, a parent or family member is the first to identify “The Glow” in 80% of cases.

The glow may sometimes indicate retinoblastoma, a rare type of eye cancer that usually develops before the age of 5. It is diagnosed in 250 to 350 children each year in the United States and makes up about 4% of all cancers in children under 15. Treatments for this cancer are highly effective; the survival rate for retinoblastoma higher than 95%.

What Should I Do?

If you notice the glow in more than one photograph of your child, schedule a comprehensive eye exam, including a red reflex test, with an optometrist or pediatric ophthalmologist. Bring photos that show the glow in your child’s eye to your appointment. The great news is that most childhood eye diseases, including retinoblastoma, are treatable and even curable if caught early – up to 80% of the time.

For more information or to schedule an appointment at Phoenix Children’s, call (602) 933-EYES (3937) or visit

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