This review summarizes current knowledge on ocular conditions related to abnormal visual development in infants, including prevalence, risk factors, causes, and mechanisms involved. We discuss the role of eyeball growth with pathologic mechanism of visual deprivation and development of amblyopia in infants, particular developmental issues in preterm neonates, methods of visual assessment and screening, diagnosis, treatment, and nutritional issues.

Visual development is incomplete at birth, particularly in premature infants; maturation of the visual system--including neurological and ocular components--is influenced by many factors including prenatal and postnatal nutrition and postnatal visual stimulation. In early life, particularly during sensitive periods of development, abnormal visual input, for example caused by visual deprivation mechanism, amblyopia, or ocular misalignment, leads to abnormalities in visual development, including abnormal eyeball growth and neurological changes. Untreated anomalies or abnormal visual development can result in long-term or even permanent visual impairment. Nutrition plays a key role in visual development: infant formulas containing nutrients essential for normal visual development (specifically omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid and omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid) may protect nonbreast-fed infants against visual development abnormalities.

Problems related to visual anomalies are common among young children, particularly in preterm neonates. Screening to enable early diagnosis and correction of visual deficiency is important as abnormal visual input can lead to abnormalities in visual development, which can become permanent visual impairment if left untreated. Optimized nutrition can help to reduce the risk of abnormal visual development and prevent long-term or permanent visual deficits.