What is a cataract?
A cataract is cloudiness in the lens of the eye. In a healthy eye, the lens is clear, allowing light to pass through to produce a clear image. When a child (or adult) has a cataract, light cannot pass through the lens. The cataract (cloudiness) causes a blurry image.
A child can have a small cataract that does not affect vision, or a large cataract causing vision loss.
Types of pediatric cataracts
The lens has two parts: the nucleus, which is the center and the cortex, which surrounds the nucleus. Both parts of the lens are inside a capsule. Cataracts vary in size and location in the different parts of lens. Types of cataracts include:
- Lamellar cataract: in between the center and surrounding layer of the lens
- Nuclear cataract: in the center of the lens
- Posterior subcapsular cataract: at the back of the lens in the cortex near the edge of the capsule
- Anterior polar cataract: at the front of the lens; frequently treated without surgery
- Posterior polar cataract: at the back of the lens, in the center
What causes cataracts in babies and children?
Pediatric cataracts develop during pregnancy when the lens of the eye doesn’t form normally. Cataracts can already be developed when a baby is born, or they can develop later in childhood. Trauma or injury to the eye can also cause a cataract immediately or later on in life.
Who gets cataracts?
Three in every 10,000 children have cataracts. Children can get cataracts genetically through their parents, or cataracts can develop on their own.
What are the symptoms of cataracts?
Cataract symptoms include:
For children old enough to tell you what is wrong, they may see:
- Cloudy or blurry vision
- Double vision
- Faded colors
For babies and children who cannot tell you what they see, parents should look for:
- A white pupil when a flashlight is shined into the eye
- White area on the eye
As a parent, you may or may not be able to see the cataract in your child’s eye. Not all cataracts are large enough to be visible without medical tools.
What tests are used to diagnose cataracts?
When you visit the Department of Ophthalmology at Children’s Colorado, a member of the care team will start by taking a full medical history. Then they will complete an eye exam, which may include:
- An eye chart test to measure your child’s eye sight
- Dilating your child’s eye with eye drops to examine the back of the eye
- Eye measurements for future use if needed
- An eye ultrasound
Once the exam is complete, the doctor will talk with you about the diagnosis of a cataract and possible treatment options.
The Pediatric Glaucoma and Cataract Family Association
Department of Ophthalmology at Children’s Hospital Colorado