We tend to think of cataracts as a health condition that only affects older people, and while they certainly are much more common in this age group, the unfortunate truth is that they can affect children too. Known as childhood cataracts or pediatric cataracts, they can be present at birth or develop during the baby’s first year. They can be caused by several different factors, including genetics, diabetes, infection, and adverse reactions to medications. It’s also possible for cataracts to be caused by trauma to the eye, which is more common in older children. Here’s an overview of what you need to know about the condition and how to treat it.
What are childhood cataracts?
Much like normal cataracts, childhood cataracts are a clouding of the eye’s natural lens. They can lead to a range of vision problems, including amblyopia (also known as lazy eye) and an inability to focus on objects. Such vision problems are particularly important to catch and treat in children because they can have a profound impact on appearance, personality, and learning ability – all of which can have a lasting effect on your baby’s life. This is why it’s vital to take your child for an eye exam when they reach six months old, then again at three years and before they start school.
How can childhood cataracts be treated?
The most common treatment for cataracts in both adults and children is surgery. Whether or not this is required for childhood cataracts will depend on the density and location of cataracts, but there are many benefits of cataract surgery for children. If they only affect a small part of the eye and don’t significantly interfere with vision, there may be no need for surgery. However, if they are more severe, surgery will likely be the best option.
During cataract surgery in both children and adults, the cataract is removed and replaced with a surgically implanted intraocular lens, or IOL. IOLs can not only correct clouded vision; they can sharpen eyesight and brighten colors – often reducing the need for glasses to be worn. Of course, having eye surgery at such a young age is a daunting prospect, so speak with your ophthalmologist to see what they advise in terms of both necessity and timing.
What are the signs and symptoms of childhood cataracts that I should look out for?
It’s not always easy to spot childhood cataracts. In many cases your baby’s doctor will notice them during a routine checkup – which is why it’s so important to take your child in for these – but there are certain signs that it’s helpful to know about so you can watch out for them.
One of the most noticeable symptoms is when the pupil of the eye looks gray or white instead of black. This might be just a small spot on one part of the pupil, or it may look as though the whole pupil is covered in a sort of film. Other signs to look out for include rapid uncontrolled eye movements, eyes pointing in different directions, and poor vision in general. For example, your child might complain of lights being too bright, blurry vision, or clouded vision. If you spot any of these, take your child to the doctor immediately.