Cataracts in Children

Pediatric Eye Clinic

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 removed.

  • 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:

  • Injury

  • Diabetes

  • Poisoning

  • Steroid use

  • 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 syndrome.

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, or mixed.

  • Cloudy or blurry vision

  • Trouble seeing

  • Lights that look too bright or have a glare

  • Seeing a circle of light around an object (halo) 

Source: StanfordChildren

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