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Cataracts in Children – Causes, Types, Diagnosis ,and Prevention

Although a cataract in kids is rare, there is a possibility that they can develop unilateral (in one eye) or bilateral (in both eyes) cataracts. Minor cataracts may not hinder vision in children. However, progressive cataracts may lead to severe vision impairment.

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What Are Cataracts and How It Formed?

A change in the eye lens causes cataracts, and the lens becomes less clear and transparent. The lens is the transparent structure behind the pupil, letting light rays pass through and focus on the retina. Cataracts are common when people are aging and affect older adults. However, there are cases where a cataract in newborns is common and can also develop in children at a young age. This condition is commonly known as childhood cataracts.

Types of Cataracts In Children

Common types of juvenile cataracts found in children are:

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1. Congenital Cataracts

Some babies tend to be born with cataracts or develop them in childhood. Congenital cataracts develop in both eyes. This kind of cataract does not generally affect the child’s vision and does not need to be removed.

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2. Secondary Cataracts

This type generally develops because of another illness. Diabetes or any other eye illness can be the cause of secondary cataracts. Steroids can also cause this type of cataract.

3. Traumatic Cataracts

An eye injury can cause a traumatic cataract. It can happen when your child’s eye gets hurt, injured, or affected for any reason. It can also occur years after the eyes are affected.

4. Radiation Cataracts

Any exposure to radiation causes this kind of cataract.

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Causes of Cataracts In Children

Children are rarely born with cataracts, and some develop it due to some reasons. The most common causes of cataracts in children are:

  • Injury to eyes, especially after birth
  • Diabetes
  • Use of steroids
  • Exposure to poison
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Eye diseases like glaucoma
  • Metabolic disorders like enzyme deficiencies
  • Genetic conditions like Down Syndrome
  • Eye injury
  • Diabetes
  • Steroid use
  • Poison exposure
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Eye diseases, such as glaucoma
  • Metabolic disorders, such as enzyme deficiencies
  • Genetic conditions, such as Down syndrome or genetic faults passed on from parents
  • Infections caught by mother during pregnancy like chickenpox, rubella
  • Most cataracts that children develop generally occur with any other eye or health complication.

Symptoms of Cataracts In Child

Symptoms of pediatric cataracts can be different for each child. These include:

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  • A pupil that looks white when a flashlight is shone into it
  • Misaligned eyes (eyes not in the correct position)
  • A condition called nystagmus cannot control rhythmic eye movements – the eyes go back and forth, up and down, all around and mixed.
  • Blurry and clouded vision
  • Difficulty seeing
  • Lights that look very bright or have a glare
  • Seeing a halo or a circle of light around an object

Symptoms of cataracts may appear similar to symptoms of other health conditions. A health care provider or doctor will be the best person to diagnose.

Which Children Are At Risk?

More common in adults, cataracts are not common in children. However, the following children are more likely to have cataracts:

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  • Children with illnesses like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis
  • Children with genetic issues like Down Syndrome

Diagnosis of Cataracts In Child

Your healthcare provider or pediatrician will check and know about your child’s health history. Your child will then be recommended an eye examination. They will suggest the following tests:

  • Visual Acuity Test: This is an eye chart test and tests your child’s ability to see from a distance.
  • Pupil Dilation: Your child will be given an eye drop that will dilate the pupil. This will help the doctor to examine the eye lens, retina, and optic nerve. It will also help the doctor look for any signs of damage or other eye-related problems.

Treatment of Cataracts In Child

Treatment of cataracts depends on the severity of the contract and other symptoms, age, and general health of the child. The pediatric ophthalmologist may monitor small cataracts that do not affect vision. However, if the cataract significantly hinders vision, surgical removal or insertion of an artificial lens may be needed to restore normal vision.

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Depending on the child’s age, an artificial plastic lens is placed in the eye during the initial cataract surgery. In children less than a year of age, no intraocular lens is placed, and when the child has grown, a lens is implanted. Post-surgery, they may need short-term treatment with anti-inflammatory and antibiotic eye drops.

They may also need a combination of the below to help good vision post-surgery:

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  • Glasses
  • Contact lenses
  • Eye patches for stimulating vision in the weaker eye where children have lazy eyes

Complications of Cataracts In Children

Cataracts that are not treated in children could cause loss of vision entirely. Children are more prone to vision problems if cataracts are not treated as opposed to adults with cataracts. A child’s eyes develop until the age of 8-9, and an untreated cataract could cause severe vision impairment and interfere with the development of the eye.

When To Call A Doctor

If your child is displaying any of the above symptoms or one’s like below, you must seek the advice of a doctor:

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  • Blurred, cloudy, or double vision
  • Poor vision
  • Sensitivity to  bright lights
  • Any severe injury to the eye
  • Sudden development of health conditions like diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis
  • If you or your child has  been diagnosed with any genetic disorders

How To Prevent Cataracts In Children?

While one cannot prevent most cases of cataracts, you can avoid them in some cases. A reduction in exposure to the sun may reduce the development of cataracts and skin disorders, especially in adulthood. To protect your child from the sun, you can do the following:

  • Get your child to wear a wide hat to protect the face.
  • Make your child wear sunglasses that block both kinds of UV rays. Sunglasses should fit well and be comfortable.

Essential Points About Cataracts In Children

There are some essential aspects about cataracts in children that will help you to prevent or avert any possible danger.

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  • A cataract clouds the lens of the eye and affects your child’s vision. It could cause blindness in children if not treated.
  • A child can be born with a congenital contract or even develop it later.
  • Cloudy, blurred, or double vision are common symptoms. Irregular eye movement and misaligned eyes could also be other symptoms.
  • Children with cataracts may need surgery to remove them.
  • Protection from the sun could reduce the risk of developing cataracts and other eye-related problems.

Cataracts can cause severe vision loss in children, and if treated promptly, you can avert the risk. Treatments are increasingly more successful, and with follow-up care plans, children can sometimes have excellent vision for the rest of their lives.

Also Read:

Eye Problems in Children
Simple Eye Care Tips for Kids
Excessive Eye Blinking in Kids

This post was last modified on November 3, 2021 7:22 pm

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