The epicanthic or epicanthal folds are either of no significance whatsoever or a potential disease marker, especially in newborns. The appearance of the fold typically means that a small amount of skin may cover the inside corners of the eye. When a person’s eyes are open, the fold on the upper lid can look as though the upper eyelids have disappeared and are not prominent. This is frequently referred to as the Asian eye, since many people of Asian descent, and a few of other cultures have this feature.
In an Asian child or adult, possessing epicanthal folds is not associated with any type of health problems. It is fair to state that it has sometimes led to discriminatory problems, to the degree that some Asians in interacting in Western culture sought to reduce the ethnicity of their appearance by plastic surgery called epicanthoplasty. This surgery was most common after World War II, particularly in Japan or among Japanese living in the United States. Greater acceptance of race and significant decline in racism toward the Japanese has gradually reduced the frequency of these surgeries.
As much as having epicanthal folds can reflect racial background, it may also signify the presence of certain problems in a newborn, including some serious genetic disorders. For instance, the epicanthal fold is present in most people who have Down syndrome, but it may also be found in those who have rarer genetic disorders like Turner’s syndrome, or Noonan’s syndrome, or in acquired conditions like fetal alcohol syndrome. Occasionally a premature baby has this too, since the epicanthal fold develops in all babies.
What may confuse matters is that just about any child could have the expression of epicanthal folds right at birth. As the child grows, the nose bridge increases in height and the appearance of fold simply disappears for those not genetically inclined toward this eye appearance. Thus even in children of any race, the fold isn’t necessarily suggestive of illness or medical condition.
On the other hand, given the potential severity of some of the illnesses epicanthal folds might suggest, it is always a good idea to mention its presence to a doctor. Doctors can evaluate it and look for other signs that would be suggestive of a serious disorder. Another litmus test of sorts is that certain people won’t outgrow the folds, though genetically it’s not something they would be likely to have. Instead, they’ll continue to have epicanthal folds in evidence all the way into adulthood.