Coronavirus Update:What patients and families need to know
Key points about pediatric cataracts
- A cataract is a clouding over the lens of the eye. This can affect your child’s vision. Cataracts in children can cause blindness if they aren't treated.
- Your child may be born with a cataract (congenital), or it may develop later in life (acquired).
- Symptoms include cloudy or blurry vision, eyes that are not aligned and eye movements that can't be controlled.
- Many children with cataracts need surgery to remove them.
- Protecting your child’s eyes from the sun may help prevent cataracts and other eye problems later in life.
Prevention and Risk Assessment
A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye. The lens is normally clear (transparent).
Cataracts keep light rays from passing through the lens and focusing on the retina. The retina is the tissue lining at the back of the eye that’s sensitive to light. Cataracts may happen when the protein that makes up the lens gets cloudy. This affects your child’s vision.
Cataracts are rare in children. They can affect one eye (unilateral) or both eyes (bilateral).
Some cataracts are small and don’t cause any trouble with vision. Other more progressive cataracts can cause visual problems in children.
Most cataracts in adults occur because of aging. Children may have other types of cataracts. These include:
- Congenital cataracts. Some babies are born with cataracts or get them in childhood. These often happen in both eyes. This type of cataract may not affect your child’s vision. Those that do often need to be removed.
- Secondary cataracts. These cataracts form because of another illness. This can include diabetes or an eye problem. In some cases, medicine such as steroids can cause this type of cataract.
- Traumatic cataracts. Cataracts can also happen because of an eye injury. They can occur right after your child’s eye gets hurt. Or they can occur years later.
- Radiation cataracts. Some cataracts start after exposure to some types of radiation.
A child may be born with a cataract (congenital) or it may develop later in life (acquired). The following may cause cataracts:
- Steroid use
- Other illnesses, such as rheumatoid arthritis
- Complications from other eye diseases, such as glaucoma
Most cataracts that children are born with happen along with other eye or health problems. This type of cataract may be from genetic factors. This can include a metabolic disorder caused by an inherited enzyme deficiency. It can also happen because of a chromosome problem, such as Down syndrome.
Cataracts are more common in older adults. They aren’t common in children. Children may be more likely to have cataracts if they:
- Have certain illnesses, such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis
- Have genetic problems, such as Down syndrome
Most cataracts in children can't be prevented. But a lifetime of sun exposure may help lead to the development of cataracts and skin disorders in adults.
To protect your child’s eyes from the sun, do the following:
- When in bright sun, make sure your child wears a wide-brimmed hat that shades his or her face.
- Buy your child sunglasses that block both kinds of UV rays. Make sure the sunglasses fit well and are comfortable.
Symptoms can be a bit different for each child. They can include:
- A pupil that looks white when a flashlight is shined into it
- Eyes that aren’t in the right position (misaligned)
- Rhythmic eye movements that can't be controlled (called nystagmus). The eyes may go back and forth, up and down, around or mixed.
- Cloudy or blurry vision
- Trouble seeing
- Lights that look too bright or have a glare
- Seeing a circle of light around an object (halo)
The symptoms of cataracts may look like symptoms of other health problems. Have your child see his or her health care provider for a diagnosis.
Your child’s health care provider will ask you about your child’s health history. Then he or she will give your child an eye exam. Your child may need to have the following tests:
- Visual acuity test. This is the eye chart test. It checks your child’s ability to see from different distances.
- Pupil dilation. Your child will get eye drops. These make the pupils wider (dilated). This allows the health care provider to get a close-up view of the eye's lens, retina and optic nerve. The health care provider will look for signs of damage or other eye problems.
Your child may also need other tests.
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
Your child’s health care provider will decide on treatment based on the type of cataract your child has. In some cases, your child may need glasses or contact lenses. This can help your child see better. Many children older than age 1 need to have surgery to remove their cataracts and have a new lens inserted.
Cataracts in children can cause blindness if they aren't treated.
Our specialized pediatric ophthalmologists are experts at recognizing and treating complex eye conditions in infants and children.
Share your birthday with a child. Celebrate your life, and give a chance to someone who desperately wants to have as many as you.
Make it happen