What causes leukocoria and what should I do about it?

Symptom Database

Leukocoria, also known as the white pupil, is an eye abnormality characterized by an abnormal reflection from the retina. This pediatric eye condition can be a cause for concern and should not be ignored. In this article, we will explore what causes leukocoria and what steps you should take if you notice this condition in yourself or your child.

Understanding Leukocoria

Leukocoria is a condition where the pupil appears white instead of the usual black or red. It is often a sign of an underlying eye problem, such as a tumor or other abnormalities in the retina. The abnormal reflection occurs when light enters the eye and is not properly absorbed by the retina, resulting in a white appearance.

Causes of Leukocoria

There are several potential causes of leukocoria, and it is important to identify the underlying condition to determine the appropriate course of action. Some common causes include:

  • Retinoblastoma: This is a rare form of eye cancer that primarily affects children. Leukocoria is one of the main symptoms of retinoblastoma, and early detection is crucial for successful treatment.
  • Cataracts: A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye, which can cause leukocoria. Cataracts are more commonly seen in older individuals but can also occur in children.
  • Coats’ disease: This is a rare condition characterized by abnormal blood vessel development in the retina. Leukocoria is often an early sign of Coats’ disease.
  • Retinal detachment: When the retina becomes detached from the back of the eye, it can cause leukocoria. This condition requires immediate medical attention to prevent permanent vision loss.

What to Do if You Notice Leukocoria

If you or your child experiences leukocoria, it is essential to seek medical attention promptly. Early detection and treatment can significantly improve the outcome for many underlying conditions. Here are some steps you should take:

1. Schedule an Eye Examination

Contact an ophthalmologist or pediatric ophthalmologist to schedule a comprehensive eye examination. They will perform a thorough evaluation of the eyes, including dilating the pupils to get a better view of the retina. This examination will help determine the cause of leukocoria and guide further treatment.

2. Provide Detailed Information

During the examination, be prepared to provide detailed information about any symptoms, family history of eye conditions, and any other relevant medical history. This information will assist the doctor in making an accurate diagnosis.

Once a diagnosis is made, the doctor will recommend an appropriate treatment plan based on the underlying cause of leukocoria. Treatment options may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other interventions, depending on the specific condition.

4. Seek Support

Dealing with a pediatric eye condition can be overwhelming for both the child and their family. It is important to seek support from healthcare professionals, support groups, and other families who have gone through similar experiences. They can provide valuable guidance, emotional support, and resources to help navigate the journey.


Leukocoria, or the white pupil, is an eye abnormality that should not be ignored. It can be a sign of an underlying eye condition, some of which can be serious and require immediate medical attention. If you notice leukocoria in yourself or your child, it is crucial to schedule an eye examination and follow the recommended treatment plan. Early detection and intervention can significantly improve the outcome and preserve vision. Remember to seek support from healthcare professionals and other families who have faced similar challenges. By taking these steps, you can ensure the best possible outcome for you or your child’s eye health.

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