Cataracts in Children | Diagnosis & Treatment

How are cataracts diagnosed?

To diagnose a cataract, your child’s doctor will perform an eye exam any may run some tests, including:

  • dilating your child’s pupils with eye drops to examine the back of the eye
  • an ultrasound to look in the back of the eye

What are the treatment options for cataracts?

Depending on the size of the cataract, treatment may involve patching the eye or surgery. Each child and cataract is different, but a general rule is that the older the child, the less urgent it is that the surgery be done right away. This means that some cataracts can be managed without surgery for months or years.

Children born with a dense cataract will need surgery to remove it as soon as possible. If the cataract isn’t removed, it can block light from getting to the retina (the back of the eye) and prevent the retina from sending visual information to the brain. If this happens during the development of sight, the brain may never learn to see, even after the cataract is removed.

Patching

If the cataract is only a tiny dot on the lens, the lens may not need to be removed. Instead, the doctor may recommend simply placing a patch over the “good” eye, and possibly having your child wear glasses or contact lenses. Patching the unaffected eye forces the eye with the cataract to develop better vision.

A patch is an adhesive covering that completely blocks the eye. They are available in fun, kid-friendly designs. Typically, the patch is worn anywhere from one hour a day to fifty percent of waking hours.

Patches are also commonly used after cataract surgery, to help the eye that had the cataract “catch up” to the other one. Your child’s doctor will determine if this is necessary.

Surgery

During surgery, a small incision is made in the eye and the cloudy lens is removed with a special instrument.

Your child may have the lens replaced with a clear, plastic permanent lens, called an intraocular lens, during the surgery. But this type of lens isn't always an option for children. This is because lens implants in young children are more likely to cause complications and it can be hard to determine the best lens power to use in a young child's eye that will also serve them best as an adult.

Most children who don’t have a lens implanted during surgery are fitted with specialty contact lenses a few days later. In some cases, this is a temporary solution used until it's time for intraocular implants. In other cases, the contact lenses work great and there's no need for more surgery.