A cataract is a painless, cloudy area in the lens of the eye that blocks the passage of light to the retina, the nerve layer at the back of the eye, usually causing vision problems. Cataracts are rare in babies and children. But a child may be born with them because of genetics, infection during pregnancy, or low birth weight.
The earlier cataracts are diagnosed and treated, the more likely it is that sight will be preserved or develop normally. A baby's vision develops rapidly in the first few months of life. If a cataract blocks light from entering the eye and stimulating the retina, the area of the brain used for sight does not develop properly. And lazy eye (amblyopia) occurs. Without surgery in the first few months of life, the child won't ever see well with that eye, even if he or she has surgery later in life.
The signs of cataracts in children include the following:
If a child has a cataract in only one eye, you may not be able to tell. All children should have regular examinations by a family doctor to screen for these types of cataracts.
Cataracts in infants are commonly detected at birth or during routine checkups. More frequent examinations are needed if the child has a medical condition that increases the risk for cataracts, if he or she seems to have trouble seeing, or if you notice your child has clouding of the lens.
Children who have vision problems from cataracts usually need surgery to prevent lasting vision loss and to ensure normal vision will develop. A small number of children with cataracts may benefit for a short time from eyedrops that widen (dilate) the pupil. These eyedrops increase the amount of light getting into the eye. The drops may also help prevent vision loss in very young children who need to wait for surgery to be done.
Some types of cataracts in children require more urgent treatment than other types:
Call your child's doctor right away if you see that your child has one eye with a red reflex and one eye without it. The eye with the "white reflex" may have a cataract.
Call your child's doctor if:
Other Works Consulted
De Alba Campomanes AG, et al. (2012). Disorders of the eye. In CA Gleason, SU Devaskar, eds., Avery's Diseases of the Newborn, 9th ed., pp. 1423–1440. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Wright KW (2008). Leukocoria: Cataracts, retinal tumors, and Coats disease. In Pediatric Ophthalmology for Primary Care, 3rd ed., pp. 285–310. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineDonald Sproule, MDCM, CCFP - Family MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerCarol L. Karp, MD - Ophthalmology
Current as ofMarch 3, 2017
Current as of: March 3, 2017
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
& Donald Sproule, MDCM, CCFP - Family Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Carol L. Karp, MD - Ophthalmology
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