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No evidence that camera flashes damage babies’ eyes

“Baby left blind in one eye after photographer took photo with phone camera flash on,” reads the headline of an article published by the Philippines-based news site PinoyNewz on 8 December 2019. 

The article, widely shared on Facebook, says a camera flash used in a close-up photo caused “irreparable damage” to a three-month-old baby in China.

It claims that flash photography can cause permanent damage to the macula or yellow spot of a baby’s eye, which can lead to reduced sight or even permanent blindness. 

The article quotes “experts” and “doctors” as saying parents should not take photos of babies with bright flashes, and “should be careful of strong bathroom lights” while bathing babies as “just milliseconds of strong light can cause permanent damage”.

Can flash photography permanently damage babies’ eyes? We investigated.

No credible source for story

The article credits the Chinese news site People’s Daily Online as its source, but gives no link. It does not provide any information on the city or province where the incident took place, any dates, or the name or location of the hospital where the baby was treated. 

It quotes “experts”, but does not name them or the organisations they represent. All the links in the article lead to the same InfoLinks webpage, which does not offer any further information. 

A Google search shows that the original People’s Daily Online article dates back to 27 July 2015. The article claims the light from a camera flash causes a permanent round burn mark on the baby’s macula within seconds, and there is no surgery or treatment available for this condition. 

The story credits Chinese news source Guangming Daily but the link to this article is broken. 

Camera flashes can’t cause damage, but can show it

Camera flashes cause “no proven damage” to babies’ eyes, according to Dr Richard Basinger, a US-based ophthalmologist at the American Academy of Ophthalmology

Prof Ismail Mayet, head of St John Eye Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa, told Africa Check that he had not heard of camera flashes damaging babies’ eyes. 

“No reports have ever mentioned flash light causing permanent blindness. We often use bright halogen lights on instruments to examine babies' retinas as well as premature babies, and toxicity is, to my knowledge, not reported,” he said. 

He added that visual impairment in babies is more likely to be caused by developmental or genetic issues that are revealed as the baby grows up. 

The American Academy of Ophthalmology warns that an “abnormal red-eye reflex” – a white, yellow, or black reflection in one or both eyes visible when a camera flash hits the eyes – can indicate problems such as misalignment of eyes, cataracts, infections or Coats’ disease

The academy advises parents who notice this reflex to take their children to an eye specialist. – Naledi Mashishi


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