Not just adults, even babies and infants can have cataracts. A cataract is a cloudy area in the lens of the eye. If this area appears large or dense, it can make vision blurry or block it completely. A cataract could exist in either eye of the child or in both.
What causes cataract in kids
1. The child could be born with a cataract, which doctors generally refer to as “congenital” that means the lens did not form properly during pregnancy. Congenital cataracts are likely to be dense, milky white opacities in the lens of an eye of the infant and can prevent normal visual development if not removed timely.
2. Congenital cataracts can also happen if the pregnant mother gets infections like measles or rubella, rubeola, chicken pox, cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex, herpes zoster, poliomyelitis, influenza, Epstein-Barr virus, syphilis, and toxoplasmosis.
3. Congenital cataracts can sometimes be caused by a chromosomal problem like Down syndrome.
4. It can be hereditary, meaning a baby might get it from their mother or father, who would have got cataracts in their childhood.
A child can develop cataracts even after birth and these are the possible causes:
1. Eye injury
2. Complications from eye problems
3. Radiation treatment
4. Steroid intake
6. Metabolic diseases like Diabetics
9. Drug reactions
Owing to similar reasons, children or elder babies can also diagnosed with cataracts that are referred to as developmental cataracts.
How to know if your child has cataract
Cataracts are not always visibly identified but when they can be, they appear like a white or gray spot or a reflection inside the pupil.
A regular vision check-up of the child is necessary to detect cataracts as early as possible. Check-ups are important since babies will not know their problem. Initial vision screening begins with the newborn child itself and regular tests are continued through infancy and childhood. The first examination of eyes should be at birth, which is usually done by the pediatrician.
By the time the baby is three months old, he or she should be able to look around a room and track things with their eyes. If not so, a pediatric ophthalmologist needs to be consulted. Parents can also check if the child’s eyes are misaligned.
How to treat cataract in babies
The treatment to remove cataracts is surgery only. However, if the cataract is small and does not affect the vision of the child then it may not need to be removed. But if it affects the eyesight, it must be removed at the earliest else the vision can be affected in the long term.
The optimal time to perform the surgery depends on the density as well as the location of the opacification as well as an expert’s decision. Experts usually suggest that the optimal time to intervene and remove visually significant congenital cataracts is between the age of six weeks and three months.
Congenital cataracts lead to “lazy eye” or amblyopia which can further lead to other eye problems like strabismus, nystagmus and inability to fix a gaze upon objects. These issues can affect their learning ability and even appearance which can impact their personality.
Even after the surgery, you should take your child for regular eye check-ups.
(With inputs from Dr Vidya C, consultant paediatric ophthalmology, Sankara Eye Hospital)