A cataract is an eye condition that occurs due to the clouding of the eye lens. It is an age-related problem, and cataracts in children are quite rare.
The lenses are usually clear and transparent in a healthy eye, enabling light to pass through the retina for vision. Hence, as seen in cataracts, the clouding of eyes could create vision problems. When the cataract affects children, it may be unilateral (one eye) or bilateral (both eyes) in rare cases. Although minute cataracts may not cause serious vision impairment, progressive cataracts could lead to severe vision issues.
Here’s more about the types of cataracts, their signs, diagnosis, complications, prevention, and treatment.
Types Of Cataracts
The following types of cataracts are seen in children (1).
- Congenital cataracts are present at birth. Most babies may have bilateral (both eyes) cataracts that may not compromise vision in many cases.
- Secondary cataracts are caused by complications of illnesses, such as diabetes, or exposure to certain substances, such as steroids or poisons.
- Traumatic cataracts are due to eye injury. A traumatic cataract may occur immediately or years after the injury.
- Radiation cataracts are caused by radiation exposure.
Causes Of Cataracts In Children
Cataracts are uncommon in children. Some children may be born with a cataract (congenital), whereas a few may develop a cataract later in life (acquired) due to various reasons. The common causes of cataracts are (2):
- Eye injury
- Steroid use
- Poison exposure
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Eye diseases, such as glaucoma
- Metabolic disorders, such as enzyme deficiencies
- Genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome
Some children may develop cataracts without having any known causative risk factors.
Signs And Symptoms Of Cataracts In Children
The signs and symptoms of cataracts can be different in children depending on the underlying cause. However, the following symptoms and signs are commonly seen (3).
- Misaligned eyes
- The pupil appears white when a flashlight shines into it
- Vision problems, such as cloudy or blurred vision
- Nystagmus, involuntary rhythmic eye movements that cause the eyes to go back and forth, up and down, around, or in a combination of these movements
- Seeing halos (circles of lights) around an object
- Lights may appear to have a glare or seem too bright for the child
These symptoms and signs could be present in other eye problems, too. You may seek medical consult for an exact diagnosis.
Diagnosis Of Cataracts
Eye examination by a healthcare provider helps identify cataracts. Health history is asked to look for possible causes. The following tests are often done to diagnose cataracts.
- Visual acuity test, an eye chart test, is done to assess the child’s ability to see from different distances.
- Pupil dilation with eye drops helps examine the lens, retina, and optic nerve.
- Blood tests are done to identify or rule out possible underlying causes.
Additional tests are ordered based on the underlying cause and existing signs and symptoms. You may discuss the next management with your child’s doctor based on the cataract’s cause.
Treatment Of Cataracts
Treatment options may vary depending on the type of cataract, the severity of the cataract, and the child’s symptoms, age, and general health. Glasses or contact lenses are prescribed for some children to improve their vision. Some children may require surgical removal of the cataract and insertion of an artificial lens to restore normal vision (4).
Cataract removal surgeries are safe and effective. Some children may require post-surgery training to improve their eye’s focus and repair the eye-brain connections.
Cataract surgery could have certain risks like any other surgery. These risks may include (4):
- Retinal detachment
- Possibility of re-surgery
You may choose an experienced ophthalmic surgeon to reduce the risk of complications.
Children may require the combination of the following to aid good vision after surgery (4).
- Contact lenses
- IOLs (intraocular lens implants)
Eye patching is recommended to stimulate vision in the weaker eye in children with lazy eyes.
Possible Complications Of Cataracts
An untreated cataract may lead to blindness in many cases. Children are more vulnerable to vision problems due to untreated cataracts than adult-onset cataracts.
Adults’ eyes are already developed, and they may have good vision after the cataract-removal surgery. However, the eyes of a child develop up until eight to ten years of age. A cataract could cause severe long-term vision problems in children since it may interfere with healthy eye development.
Prevention Of Cataracts In Children
Some causes of cataracts cannot be prevented in children. However, reducing direct sun exposure of the eyes may help reduce the risks of some types of cataracts. Sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat could help protect the child’s eyes from the sun.
Cataract in children is not common and requires immediate treatment. Therefore look out for the signs and symptoms to seek timely medical help. Appropriate treatment can prevent the condition from progressing and provide a better vision. Although the recovery period for children after a cataract operation may require visual rehabilitation therapies for months or even years to help them see clearly, timely medical intervention can help prevent complications and discomfort.
- Cataract or the clouding of eye lenses rarely affects children.
- It could be present at birth, caused by trauma or injury to the eye, or due to an underlying disorder.
- Blurry vision, abnormal eye movement, and seeing halos are some of the symptoms that indicate cataract formation.
- Treatment depends on the severity of the condition and ranges from prescribing eyeglasses to surgical replacement of the eye lens.
2. Childhood cataracts; National Health Service
3. Cataracts in Children; Boston Children’s Hospital
4. Pediatric cataracts; American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO)