Cataracts in Children

What are cataracts?

A cataract is a cloudy area in the lens of the eye. It can look like a speckle, crystal or stripe. If the cataract is large or dense enough, it can cause blurry vision or block vision. Most cataracts are partial (not involving the whole lens), but they can sometimes be complete (involving the whole lens). A cataract may be in one eye or both eyes.

Although cataracts are most common in older people, they can also affect newborns and children.

What are the symptoms of cataracts?

Most babies are looking around and tracking things with their eyes nicely by the time they’re 3 or 4 months old. If you get the sense that your baby isn’t seeing and responding, that may be a tip off that something is wrong. Jiggling eye movements may also be a sign of a cataract or other eye problem.

Cataracts may also cause:  

  • cloudy or blurry vision
  • decreased vision
  • double vision
  • lights to appear too bright or cause a glare or halo
  • colors to seem faded

You may also notice a white or grayish area on the eye, but many cataracts can’t be seen with the naked eye because they’re too far back in the lens. 

What are the causes of cataracts?

Children may be born with a cataract (congenital), or develop one later (acquired). Congenital cataracts occur when the lens of the eye isn’t formed properly. About 25 percent of the time, congenital cataracts have a genetic cause and may be related to a metabolic, hormonal or chromosomal , such as Down syndrome. In another 25 percent of cases, cataracts are hereditary, which means that the child’s mom or dad also had a cataract in childhood.

Acquired cataracts are caused by abnormal interactions among the proteins that make up the lens. Over time, these abnormal interactions cause clumping, specks or cloudy areas to form.

Some possible causes of acquired cataracts are:

  • trauma to the eye
  • diabetes or another metabolic disease
  • steroid use
  • complications from other eye diseases
  • complications from treatment of other childhood diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis
  • radiation therapy after cancer

Many cataracts are idiopathic, which means they occur for no known reason.

How we care for cataracts

Babies and children with cataracts need highly specialized care. Our Pediatric Cataract Service offers the expertise, child-modified equipment and advanced technology to diagnose and treat cataracts in even our tiniest patients. Babies and children with cataracts are referred to us from all over the country. 

Our pediatric ophthalmologists are very experienced in treating kids with cataracts and have removed cataracts in newborn babies. Our team uses specialized tools and equipment, including customized software that predicts the growth of your child’s eye, allowing us to choose the best lens to serve your child through adulthood. Our team has successfully implanted intraocular lenses in babies as young as 1 month old.