Cataract and other lens abnormalities

What is a cataract?

A cataract is a clouding or opaque area over the lens of the eye--an area that is normally transparent. As this thickening occurs, it prevents light rays from passing through the lens and focusing on the retina--the light sensitive tissue lining located in the back of the eye. With some cataracts, this clouding is caused when some of the protein which makes up the lens begins to clump together and interferes with vision. Cataracts are rare in children. They can affect either one eye (unilateral) or both eyes (bilateral).

Some cataracts are small and do not cause any visual symptoms. However, other, more progressive, cataracts can cause visual problems in children. Cataracts in children are uncommon.

Simulation photograph: normal vision
Simulation photograph: cataract

Prevention & Risk Treatment

Prevention & Risk Treatment

What causes cataracts?

A child may be born with the disease (congenital), or it may develop later in life (acquired). Possible causes of cataracts include the following:

  • Trauma
  • Diabetes
  • Poisoning
  • Steroid use
  • Other childhood diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Complications from other eye diseases, such as glaucoma

The majority of congenital cataracts (those present at birth) are present in children who also have other eye problems or other health problems. In some children born with congenital cataracts, the condition is due to a genetic cause such as a metabolic disorder (caused by an inherited enzyme deficiency) or a chromosome abnormality (for example, Down syndrome).

What are the symptoms of cataracts?

The following are the most common symptoms of cataracts. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • White pupil on flashlight examination
  • Misaligned eyes
  • Involuntary rhythmic movements of the eyes back and forth, up and down, around, or mixed (nystagmus)
  • Cloudy or blurry vision
  • Decreased vision
  • Lights appear too bright and/or present a glare or a surrounding halo

The symptoms of cataracts may resemble other eye conditions. Always consult your child's doctor for a diagnosis.

What are the different types of cataracts?

According to the National Eye Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, although most cataracts are due to aging, there are other types of cataracts:

  • Congenital cataracts. Some babies are born with cataracts or develop them in childhood, often in both eyes. Some congenital cataracts do not affect vision, but others do and need to be removed.
  • Secondary cataracts. Secondary cataracts develop primarily as a result of another disease occurrence in the body (such as, juvenile diabetes or another ocular problem). Secondary cataract development has also been linked to some medications (for example, steroids).
  • Traumatic cataracts. Eye(s) that have sustained an injury may develop a traumatic cataract either immediately following the incident, or several years later.
  • Radiation cataracts. Cataracts that develop after some types of radiation exposure.



How are cataracts diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and eye examination of your child, diagnostic procedures for cataracts may include, but are not limited to:

  • Visual acuity test. The common eye chart test, which measures vision ability at various distances.
  • Pupil dilation. The pupil is widened with eyedrops to allow a close-up examination of the eye's retina and optic nerve for signs of damage or other eye problems.

In addition, other tests may also be performed to help learn more about the health and structure of your child's eyes.

Children's Team

Children's Team





Our specialized pediatric ophthalmologists are experts at recognizing and treating complex eye conditions in infants and children.

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