Cataracts in Children
What are cataracts in children?
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
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.
What causes cataracts in a child?
A child may be born with a cataract (congenital). Or it may develop later in life (acquired). The following may cause cataracts:
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
Which children are at risk for cataracts?
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
What are the symptoms of cataracts in a child?
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,
Cloudy or blurry vision
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 healthcare
provider for a diagnosis.
How are cataracts diagnosed in a child?
Your child’s healthcare 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 healthcare provider
to get a close-up view of the eye's lens, retina, and optic nerve. The healthcare
provider will look for signs of damage or other eye problems.
Your child may also need other tests.
How are cataracts treated in a child?
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 healthcare 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
What are possible complications of cataracts in a child?
Cataracts in children can cause blindness if they aren't treated.
How can I prevent cataracts in my child?
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.
Key points about cataracts in children
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.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.
Online Medical Reviewer:
Chris Haupert MD
Online Medical Reviewer:
Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer:
Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed:
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