Cataracts in Babies and Children: What to Know

You might think that only older folks get cataracts. But babies and children can get them, too.

A cataract is a cloudy area in the lens of your child’s eye. If it’s large or dense, it can cause blurry or even blocked vision. Your child may have a cataract in just one eye, or she could have one in each.

Why Does My Child Have a Cataract?

Your baby may have been born with a cataract. Your doctor may use the word “congenital.” It means the lens did not form properly during the pregnancy.

Sometimes congenital cataracts are caused by a chromosomal problem like Down syndrome. They might also be hereditary, meaning a baby’s mom or dad may have them.

Or, they could be acquired, meaning your child developed them after birth. There are many possible causes, including:

It’s possible your doctor can’t know for sure why your child got a cataract.

How Can I Find Out if My Child Has One?

You can’t always see cataracts. But when you can, they usually look like a white or gray spot or reflection inside the pupil.

It’s important to get your child’s vision checked regularly. The earlier you find cataracts, the better her eyesight will be in the long term. The first vision screening takes place when your child is a newborn. Her doctor will check her eyes for cataracts and other problems. She’ll continue to have vision tests throughout infancy and childhood when she gets her regular check-ups.

It can be hard for children to explain vision problems to their parents. They might not even know something’s wrong with the way they see. But when they do, they may say they can’t see as well as they used to. They might also say that they see two of everything (“double vision”), or that the lights are too bright. Maybe they see a glare or halo, or colors just don’t look as bright as they should.

By the time your baby is about 4 months old, she should be able to look around a room and track things with her eyes. If she can’t, ask your doctor to check her eyes.

Another way you can tell your child might have cataracts? If her eyes are misaligned, meaning they don’t look in the same direction.

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What’s the Treatment?

The only treatment for cataracts is surgery to remove them.

If your child’s cataract is small and doesn’t affect her vision, it may not need to be removed. If it does affect her eyesight, it should be removed as soon as possible. Otherwise her vision can be affected in the long term.

Your doctor will give your child general anesthesia, so she won’t be awake or feel anything during the operation. He’ll use special tools to break up the lens, then remove it through a very small incision.

From here, your doctor has some options:

  • Artificial lens (still being investigated for use in very young children)
  • Contact lenses
  • Eyeglasses (most children need them even after successful surgery)

Sometimes, if your child has cataracts in both eyes -- or one was worse than the other -- she may develop a condition called amblyopia. It happens when one eye is stronger than the other, and can be treated by her doctor.

What Happens After Surgery?

Most likely, you and your child can go home the same day.

Very young children get over this surgery quickly and usually are back to normal in about a day. Older kids might be a little uncomfortable for a few days, mostly because their eyes may be itchy or scratchy.

Your doctor will send you home with prescription eyedrops and directions on how to give them to your child.

If she had a cataract removed from just one eye, she may have to wear a patch on the other. That’ll help to strengthen the eye that was operated on.

How long she’ll have to wear the patch depends on a lot of different things that your doctor will discuss with you.

Will My Child Be OK?

Treating your child’s cataracts early on can help save her vision.

It’s also very important to keep all appointments after her surgery. That way your doctor can make sure she’s healing properly and can see the world clearly -- not just now, but well into adulthood.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Alan Kozarsky, MD on March 14, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus: “Cataract.”

Boston Children’s Hospital: “Cataracts in Children.”

Cleveland Clinic Children’s: “Cataracts in Children.”

Child Cataract Network: “How Will My Child’s Development Be Affected?”

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