What is Pediatric Cataract?
While cataracts are most commonly associated with older people, children can also be affected. The clinical name for this is pediatric cataract. It occurs when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy, causing a level of obstruction to the pathway of light entering the eye that reflects onto the retina.
Pediatric cataract can cause a range of sight problems—from blurred vision through to complete vision loss.
What Causes Pediatric Cataract?
There are two types of pediatric cataract:
- Congenital: This is when the cataract/s are present from birth
- Acquired: The cataract/s develop after the child is born
Sometimes there’s no known cause for the condition. However, metabolic disorders, such as diabetes, can be a trigger. There is a genetic link, making it more likely in children who have a parent or sibling who’ve had pediatric cataract. Eye trauma can also be a cause.
How is Pediatric Cataract Treated?
The key to treating pediatric cataract is early detection. Children’s eyes carry on developing for the first decade of their life. Failure to get effective treatment can cause life-long vision issues or, in the worst scenarios, blindness.
Unlike the single operative procedure to treat the condition in adults, cataracts in children require a long-term approach. An ophthalmologist who specializes in pediatric cataract will first assess the extent of the problem. They can occur in one or both eyes. If it’s the latter, one eye is often more severely affected. They can also be found in different areas of the lens, and range from tiny dots through to a dense cloud.
In most cases, pediatric cataract/s require surgery. After this, a long-term treatment plan will be put in place. This is likely to include one or more of the following:
- Contact Lenses
- IOLs (intraocular lenses):. These are artificial lenses that are placed within the eye to replace the natural, damaged, lens
- Patching: Because the pathways between the eyes and the brain are still developing, pediatric cataract can sometimes cause a condition called “lazy eye”. In such cases, wearing a patch over the better functioning eye will stimulate the development of good vision in the weaker eye.
What Happens During Pediatric Cataract Surgery?
Pediatric cataract surgery is an intricate procedure. It’s carried out by a specialist eye surgeon using techniques and equipment that differs from that of adult cataract operations. This is because infants and children’s eyes are not yet full size and the connections between the eyes and the brain are not yet fully formed.
While there are some risks, untreated pediatric cataract can cause life-long vision issues or blindness. The main potential problems with pediatric cataract surgery are:
- Detached retina
- The need for further surgery
The extent of surgery will depend on the severity of the condition. Your pediatric ophthalmologist will discuss the best treatment plan with you, outlining the prognosis, and any associated risks.
Early Detection & Effective Pediatric Cataract Management?
Whether pediatric cataracts are congenital or acquired, they require strategic long-term therapy to prevent lifetime vision issues or blindness. Treatment is tailored to the child’s condition and focuses on stimulating normal eye development during the first 10 years. During this time pathways are being created between the eyes and the brain. Cataracts disrupt this process, leading to faulty connections being established. Once they’re fully formed they can’t be rectified. This is why early detection of the condition is crucial.
Those present from birth are often diagnosed before mother and baby leave the hospital. Others are picked up during well-baby examinations. Sometimes parents notice them and bring them to the attention of their pediatrician.
Acquired pediatric cataract/s is generally found via a regular eye check or following an injury to the eye.
Surgery is generally the first element of treatment. Once performed, further strategies are put in place to stimulate the correct eye-brain connections. The combination of early detection, surgery, and ongoing corrective treatment generally means the prognosis for pediatric cataract is positive.