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Childhood Cataracts

Medikoe Health Expert

Medikoe Health Expert

  Koramangala, bengaluru, karnataka, india, Bengaluru     Feb 9, 2017

   6 min     

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Overview

Cataracts are typically thought to occur in adults as they age, and the eyesight becomes weaker. Older adults are normally affected by cataracts (age-related cataracts), but in some cases, babies are born with cataracts. It is known as childhood cataracts. If the doctor uses the word congenital, it means that the lens was unable to develop properly during pregnancy. Sometimes they might be because of some chromosomal defects, but they can also be a hereditary condition from the parents.

Cataracts in babies and infants are rare. It has been estimated that every one in every 250 children is mostly to develop a cataract either prior to birth or during childhood.

What is a cataract?

Cataracts occur when certain changes in the lens of the eye cause it to become less clear or transparent, which results in misty or cloudy vision. When it develops, the right rays become scattered as they pass through the cloudy lens, and the retinal image becomes blurred and distorted.

The lens of the eye is the transparent structure which is located right behind the pupil, i.e., the black circle in the centre of the eyes.

This structure allows the light to pass through the light-sensitive layer of tissue from the back of the eye or the retina.

Types 

Children or young infants can also develop childhood cataracts at a young age. These are known as childhood cataracts or pediatric cataracts.

Childhood cataracts are often referred to as:

  • Developmental, juvenile or infantile cataracts – cataracts are diagnosed in older babies or children

  • Congenital cataracts – cataracts are already present when a baby is born or shortly afterwards

Symptoms

Cataract can affect single or both eyes in children. However, in young infants or babies, it can be quite challenging to notice the signs. So, it is even more critical to spot cataracts in children quickly because only early treatment can reduce the risk of having long-term vision problems in future. 

Cloudy patches in the lens can get bigger sometimes and can develop, resulting in increasingly affecting the child's vision. Cataracts can also cause "wobbling eyes", poor vision and a squint, i.e., the eyes point in different directions. Some other symptoms for cataracts in children are:

  • Cloudy or blurry vision

  • Decreased vision

  • Double vision

  • Light appear too bright

  • Colour seems faded

In case you come across any of the above-mentioned symptoms, you should get the baby checked up. Your baby's eyes will be examined routinely within 72 hours of birth, and once again, when the baby becomes 6 to 8 weeks old. Sometimes cataracts can even develop in after these screening tests in your child.

Causes 

Childhood cataract can be present at birth or can develop later in life. The exact cause of bilateral cataracts is unknown, and many of them are hereditary. It is also associated with a number of genetic disorders. A unilateral cataract is usually not associated with a particular disease. Trauma is another cause of unilateral cataract. Possible causes of cataracts include:

  • Trauma

  • Diabetes

  • Poisoning

  • Steroid use

  • Other childhood diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis

  • Genetic conditions like the down syndrome

  • An inherited genetic fault from the parents that may cause the lens to develop abnormally

  • infections picked up by the mother during her pregnancy, including chickenpox and rubella

Sometimes cataract may be so small that child perceives no blurriness at all. Kids with cataracts have an even higher risk of developing high pressure in the eye known as glaucoma.

Diagnosis

It's important that childhood cataracts must be diagnosed as early as possible. Early treatment for the condition can significantly reduce the risk of long-term vision problems. 

To diagnose if your baby has a cataract, newborn screening is offered within the first 72 hours of the birth. The eyes are examined by looking at their appearance, response and the movement. Another screening is done when the baby is 6-8 weeks old.

If the results show that the eyes are cloudy, then it is a symptom, your baby has a cataract. Other tests to detect if your baby has a cataract are:

  • Visual acuity test

  • Pupil dilation

Treatments

Treatment is completely based on the child's age, overall health, type of cataract, and medical history. Cataracts are not too bad and have only a little or no effect. In some cases, vision loss caused by the cataract may be aided by eyeglasses or contact lenses. Surgery is also recommended where the affected lens can be removed to treat the condition. After the operation, replacing the lens for a normal functionality is also very important. 

A lot of children with cataract are able to live a full and healthy life.

Risks

Cataracts affect vision and can be a considerable risk when not treated or paid attention on-time. When not treated, cataracts can cause irreversible damage to the eyes and the baby's sight like lazy eyes or even blindness in severe circumstances. 

The surgery to cure cataract is generally safe and successful with a minute risk of complications. The common risks that are involved in cataract surgery is a condition which causes cloudy vision to return. It can affect artificial lens implants named posterior capsule opacification (PCO). 

One of the other risks is that the surgery is gone wrong might risk the baby into having glaucoma, which can even cause irreversible injuries to the key structure of the eyes.

Well, although there are some risks which can harm the baby's vision, it is a very slight chance of that happening. Medications and other measures are often taken as a precaution so that nothing goes wrong.

Prevention

No matter what problem it is, there is always a way to prevent it and so does cataract. Although there is a very slim chance of preventing cataracts, specially those which are genetic or inherited.

Seeking medical advice from your GP while you are pregnant can be helpful in avoiding future infections. You should also be up to date with all the essential vaccines for the immunity of both the mother and the baby. Genetic counselling can also help if the parents are worried about passing an inherited cataract or if you already have a baby with the condition and are planning for another. 

This way, you can be cautious about the baby and dodge the possibilities of the baby developing a cataract.

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Tags:  eye care,Cataracts, Cataracts in babies, What is a cataract, childhood cataracts, Congenital cataracts, blurry vision, Double vision, Diabetes, Steroid, down syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, Visual acuity test, pupil dilation, cataract surgery

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