Do Children Get Cataracts?

The simple answer is, yes, children do suffer from them too. Many people are surprised to discover that cataracts do not only affect the elderly, but that infants and children are susceptible.

The biggest concern for this population, unlike adults, is their significant risk for developing permanent vision loss (amblyopia). Therefore, making prompt assessment and treatment by an ophthalmologist essential..

What Is a Cataract

In a normal eye, the lens or “window” sits just behind the iris or the coloured part of the eye. It is responsible for bending the light coming into the eye onto the retina, so that a clear image can be sent to the brain. To function well, the lens needs to be crystal clear.

If the lens becomes damaged in any way, the substance of the lens changes. It starts to become cloudy and in some cases the lens becomes completely white and therefore, opaque.

Light cannot pass through this white lens, which means that the child’s vision deteriorates.

Now How Does This Affect Children?

The neurological system in infants and children is still developing, thus when the light is blocked from entering the eye, it can have profoundly serious consequences.

The brain can permanently “switch off” the information coming from that eye. This means that even if the cataract is not removed timeously, the child could remain blind.

Did you know the following fact?
The delayed treatment of cataract in an infant or child can cause permanent blindness, even if the cataract is removed.

What Puts a Child at Risk For Developing a Cataract?

There are many things that cause a cataract to develop in a child:

  • In the womb: Infections
  • Trauma: Blunt or Penetrating
  • Spontaneously: In up to half of the cases, the underlying cause is never found
  • Genetic mutation: The most common cause in infants

Many of the conditions that cause cataracts to formare associated with other medical diseases or syndromes. Therefore, it is soimportant to have a thorough assessment by a peadiatrician as well as by an ophthalmologist.

These are a few of the triggers for cataracts in infants and children:

  • Hereditary conditions: Fabry’s disease, Lowe oculocebrebral disease, Alport syndrome, myotonic dystrophy
  • Chromosomal abnormalities: Down syndrome
  • Metabolic diseases: Diabetes, Wilson’s disease and Galactosemia
  • Infections: Vaccine preventable diseases, like rubella, measles, polio,and chickenpox. Toxoplasmosis. Influenza virus.

Cataract in a Child

What Does a Cataract Look Like In a Child?

The abnormal lens will become cloudy or even become completely opaque in appearance. You will notice these changes when looking at the pupil or the black hole in the centre of a normal eye. In 2 out of 3 of cases, the cataracts will occur in both eyes at the same time. A lot of the time the cataract can be subtle and only seen when viewed under a slit lamp by an ophthalmologist.

Did you know the following fact?
Cataracts remain the leading cause of blindness worldwide and occur in 3 out of 10 000 live births.

How is it Diagnosed?

A complete examination by an ophthalmologist is mandatory. They will not only assess the general condition of the child but examine the eyes in detail.

If the cataract is associated with a disease or syndrome involving the rest of the body, they will involve apediatrician in the child’s care. If the visual axis is affected, the child will require surgery to remove this obstruction. The degree of visual threat determines how immediately the surgery is done.

A small incision is made in the eye and the damaged lens is removed. The surgeon may or may not insert a synthetic lens to take the place of the one that they have removed. This synthetic lens is called an intraocular lens or IOL = Intraocular lens.

How Cataract is Diagnosed

Post Operatively

The management will be directed according to whether an intraocular lens was inserted or not. The child will also require contact lenses or glasses Regardless of whether surgery has or has not been performed, follow up visits with the ophthalmologist are essential. As the child grows, the eyes change, so the ophthalmologist will need to adapt their management to the child’s development.


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