KidsMD Health Topics

Cataracts in Children

  • Overview

    "At Boston Children's Hospital, we have a high volume of pediatric cataract cases, which present unique challenges and are different from adult cataracts, so we have a lot of experience helping kids with cataracts."

    Deborah K. VanderVeen, MD, associate in Ophthalmology at Children?s Hospital Boston

    Most people think of cataracts as something that happens to our eyes as we age, and age-related cataracts are, in fact, the most common type. But cataracts can also affect newborns and children – and when they do, they can sometimes be accompanied by special urgency and challenges.

    click to enlarge

    A cataract is a cloudy area in the lens of the eye.  The lens should be clear, in order to focus images properly. If the cataract is large or dense enough, it can cause blurry vision or block vision. 

    • A cataract may be in one eye (unilateral) or both eyes (bilateral).
    • Children may be born with a cataract (congenital), or develop one later (acquired).
    • Cataracts aren’t always visible to the naked eye. When they are, they usually appear as a white or gray spot or reflection inside the pupil.  
    • If a cataract has been identified and is limiting vision, we recommend surgery to remove it.  

    A baby or young child with an untreated cataract could be slowly going blind. This is because when the cloudy lens blocks light from getting to the retina (the back of the eye), the retina can’t send visual information to the brain at a crucial time when eye and brain are working together to learn to see. If the cataract isn’t removed in time, it may be too late – the brain may never learn to see, even if the cataract is removed.

    How Children’s Hospital Boston approaches cataracts

    Babies and children with cataracts require 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
    • have access to specialized tools and equipment, including an innovative laser that allows children to be cradled in a horizontal position after being anesthetized
    • can predict the growth of your child’s eye with customized software that lets us choose the best lens to serve her through adulthood
    • use the latest refined, delicate lens implantation techniques
    • have successfully implanted intraocular lenses in babies as young as one month old

    The Pediatric Cataract Service is part of Children’s Department of Ophthalmology, the largest group of full-time practicing pediatric ophthalmologists in the United States.

    Enabling Allie to see again

    During her first year of life, Allie DeFrancisco's vision seemed perfect. But by the time she was 15 months old, she developed cataracts, a clouding of the eyes' lenses that affects less than one percent of all children. Read more.

    Cataracts: Reviewed by Deborah K. VanderVeen, MD ©Children’s Hospital Boston, 2011

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