Many people generally think cataracts happen with older people, however, children can get cataracts as well. There are different types of cataracts found in children:
These are lens changes that can cause blurred vision and reversible blindness. In this condition the lens of the eye loses its normal transparency and blocks light entering the eye. Vision can usually be restored by removing the cataract and replacing the lens.
Pediatric cataracts often occur because of abnormal lens development during pregnancy. Cataracts can result from genetic problems, infections, or they can occur spontaneously. Lens malformations that occur in conjunction with medical problems are often the result of a genetic or metabolic problem. These cataracts may be present at birth or may develop during childhood. Most pediatric cataracts are isolated findings and are not associated with other abnormalities.
No. Some cataracts are small and/or off center in the lens. These cataracts do not need to be removed because vision develops normally, even if the cataract is left in place.
The human crystalline lens consists of three parts including a center part (nucleus), an outer part (cortex), and a capsule surrounding the cortex. Cloudiness can occur in one or more parts of the lens:
A lamellar cataract is cloudiness between the nuclear and cortical layers of the lens
A nuclear cataract is cloudiness of the center part of the lens.
A posterior sub capsular cataract is a thin layer of cloudiness that affects the back surface of the lens cortex, just inside the capsule. This type of cataract can often be associated with medication use such as steroids.
An anterior polar cataract is a small, usually central opacity of the front part of the lens capsule. Anterior polar cataracts generally do not grow during childhood and are typically not visually significant. They are often managed without surgery.
A posterior polar cataract is a central opacity at the back of the lens.
Persistent fetal vasculature can be associated with a pediatric cataract. During development of the eye, a blood vessel extends from the optic nerve (in the back of the eye) to the developing lens to provide nutrients to the young, growing lens. This blood vessel normally disappears before birth. If the blood vessels do not go away, it can result in a plaque-like cataract on the back of the lens. The persistent stalk extending from the back of the eye toward the cataract can cause retinal abnormalities as well. These particular cataracts are often more difficult to treat and have a worse prognosis because of the other associated eye abnormalities.
A traumatic cataract results from either a blunt or penetrating force that damages the lens. The cataract can form shortly after the trauma or months to years after the injury
A tiny incision is made into the eye and an opening is made in the front of the lens capsule. The very soft and cloudy inner part of the child’s lens is suctioned out of the capsule. Younger children may require an additional opening in the posterior lens capsule with some vitreous gel removal (called a vitrectomy). An intraocular lens (IOL) is then sometimes placed within the empty lens capsule either during the same surgery or in a subsequent second surgery. Generally, an IOL is not placed in a patient less than 1 year of age. Dissolvable stitches are used to close the wounds.
Cataract surgery performed by an experienced surgeon is generally very safe. However, no surgical procedure is without risks. The risks of pediatric cataract surgery include infection, inflammation, retinal detachment, development of glaucoma, displacement of the intraocular lens, development of capsular cloudiness and development of vitreous cloudiness.
The lens inside in the eye focuses light so the eye gets a clear image whether viewing in the distance or up close. Once the lens is removed, it can no longer focus light inside the eye. There are several methods to restore focusing ability of the eye:
1) a permanent IOL is placed inside the eye
2) a contact lens can be placed on the surface of the eye (contact lenses have to be removed and cleaned regularly)
3) glasses can be used to focus the light rays.
Glasses once the cataract is removed are often very thick and cause magnification, so they are generally not a good option when only one eye is affected. They can also limit the visual field of the affected eye