What are the possible causes and treatments for a white pupil?

Symptom Database

A white pupil, also known as leukocoria, is a condition characterized by an abnormal reflection in the eye. It can be a sign of an underlying eye disease or vision problem. In this article, we will explore the possible causes and treatments for a white pupil, as well as the importance of medical diagnosis and pediatric ophthalmology.

Causes of a White Pupil

There are several potential causes for a white pupil, ranging from benign to more serious conditions. Some of the common causes include:

  • Retinoblastoma: This is a rare form of eye cancer that primarily affects children. It often presents with a white pupil as one of the early symptoms.
  • Cataracts: A white pupil can be caused by the presence of cataracts, which are cloudy areas in the lens of the eye.
  • Coats’ disease: This is a rare eye disorder characterized by abnormal blood vessel development in the retina. It can lead to a white pupil and vision loss.
  • Retinopathy of prematurity: Premature infants may develop abnormal blood vessel growth in the retina, leading to a white pupil.
  • Retinal detachment: When the retina becomes detached from the back of the eye, it can cause a white pupil along with other symptoms such as floaters and flashes of light.

Importance of Medical Diagnosis

If you or your child has a white pupil, it is crucial to seek medical diagnosis from a qualified healthcare professional. A thorough eye examination is necessary to determine the underlying cause of the condition. Pediatric ophthalmologists specialize in diagnosing and treating eye conditions in children, making them the ideal healthcare providers to consult in such cases.

During the examination, the ophthalmologist will evaluate the appearance of the white pupil, assess visual acuity, and perform additional tests such as retinal imaging or ultrasound. These diagnostic tools help in identifying the specific eye disease or condition responsible for the white pupil.

Treatments for a White Pupil

The treatment options for a white pupil depend on the underlying cause. Here are some possible treatments:


If retinoblastoma is diagnosed, the treatment plan will be tailored to the individual case. Options may include:

  • Chemotherapy: Medications can be used to shrink the tumor before considering other treatments.
  • Radiation therapy: High-energy beams are directed at the tumor to destroy cancer cells.
  • Surgery: In some cases, surgical removal of the affected eye may be necessary to prevent the spread of cancer.


Cataracts can often be treated with surgery. During the procedure, the cloudy lens is removed and replaced with an artificial lens. This helps restore clear vision and eliminates the white pupil.

Coats’ Disease

Treatment for Coats’ disease may involve laser therapy or cryotherapy to destroy abnormal blood vessels in the retina. In more advanced cases, surgery may be required to remove scar tissue or repair retinal detachment.

Retinopathy of Prematurity

In mild cases, close monitoring of the condition may be sufficient as it often resolves on its own. However, more severe cases may require laser treatment or surgery to prevent vision loss.

Retinal Detachment

Retinal detachment is a medical emergency that requires immediate surgical intervention. The goal of surgery is to reattach the retina and restore normal vision.


A white pupil can be a concerning symptom that warrants prompt medical attention. The underlying cause of the white pupil can range from benign conditions to serious eye diseases. Seeking a medical diagnosis from a pediatric ophthalmologist is crucial in order to determine the appropriate treatment plan. Early detection and intervention can significantly improve the prognosis and prevent vision loss. Remember, when it comes to your eyes, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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