Cataracts occur when there are changes in the lens of the eye which causes it to become less clear or transparent resulting in misty or cloudy vision. The lens is a transparent structure that is located behind the pupil. The lens of the eye must be clear in order to focus the images it sees onto the retina, which sends the images to the brain. Cataracts tend to prevent light from reaching the retina. This distorts the image and can cause blindness or blurry vision.
Although cataracts tend to mostly affect older adults, they can occur in babies and children also.
There are congenital cataracts which are present at birth or occur shortly after, and there are developmental, infantile, or juvenile cataracts which are diagnosed in children or older babies.
Types and Causes of Pediatric Cataracts
- Congenital or acquired cataracts
- Cataracts can either occur in one or both of the eyes. In cases where both eyes are affected, one can be worse than the other
- Cataracts can appear in different parts of the lens and range in size from tiny dots to dense clouds
In most cases, the exact cause of pediatric cataracts is not known, however, there are various reasons as to why a child might be born with cataracts or develop them such as:
- Certain genetic conditions such as down’s syndrome
- Genetic fault inherited from the biological parents
- Infections picked by the mother during pregnancy such as chickenpox or rubella
- Eye injury after birth
Symptoms of Pediatric Cataracts
Symptoms of pediatric cataracts can be difficult to spot when the child is very young, however, some of the signs include:
- Cloudy patches in the lens which can get bigger affecting the child’s vision
- Wobbling eyes
Diagnosing Pediatric Cataracts
Diagnosing pediatric cataracts involves routinely examining the baby’s eyes by physical screening within 72 hours of birth. This is repeated when they are between six and eight weeks old.
During the newborn screening if congenital cataracts are suspected, a specialist doctor will see the baby within two weeks of the examination.
During the 6 to 8-week examination, if congenital cataracts are suspected, the baby will be seen by a specialist eye doctor when they are 11 weeks old.
Cataracts can sometimes develop in children after these screening tests and it is important to quickly spot the symptoms and seek early treatment to avoid long-term vision problems.
Treatment for Pediatric Cataracts
Treatment for pediatric cataracts depends on the type, severity, and whether it’s in one or both eyes. To treat pediatric cataracts, most child require surgery. The surgery involves removing the affected lens or lenses. The affected lens may be replaced by an artificial lens during the surgery although most children wear contacts or glasses to compensate for the removed lens.
Most children with pediatric cataracts live a full and normal life.
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