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
How are pediatric cataracts treated?
Unfortunately, medications, exercises, eye drops and glasses don’t prevent cataracts from forming or help get rid of them. Cataracts are treated by removing the cataract from the eye. It is recommended that babies who are born with cataracts have them removed early in life while vision and visual connections in the brain are developing.
An ophthalmologist performs cataract surgery by removing the lens from the eye. Once the natural lens is removed, the eye loses the ability to focus light and create clear images. There are three options to replace the natural lens:
- Intraocular lens implant: a permanent replacement of an artificial lens
- Contact lenses: good for children under 2 years old due to quick eye developments during this time in life
- Glasses: for children where contact lenses do not work as needed and an intraocular lens implant isn’t an option. Children may continue to wear glasses even if they use the implant or contact lenses.
Why choose Children’s Hospital Colorado for your child’s cataracts?
Eye surgeons who specialize in pediatric care
Pediatric ophthalmologists at Children’s Colorado are specially trained to work with kids and our teams work with babies, kids and teens all day, every day. And because early detection of disease is important for treatment, our ophthalmologists can diagnose babies when they are still in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit. That makes us experts at providing the best pediatric eye care in the Rocky Mountain Region.
All the equipment at Children’s Colorado is kid-sized – from our operating rooms to equipment for tests and treatments. If you stay the night, you’ll notice that Children’s Colorado is designed to promote healing for kids and families – from the art in the hallways to the picturesque views of the Colorado landscape.
Learn more about the Department of Ophthalmology at Children’s Colorado.
Get to know our pediatric experts.