Congenital cataracts

What are congenital cataracts?

Congenital cataracts (or childhood cataracts) are cataracts that occur in children, and are responsible for nearly 10% of all vision loss in children worldwide. They cause the lens of the eye to go cloudy, giving the eye a milky appearance and potentially causing visual impairment depending.

Older babies and toddlers can also be diagnosed with cataracts, which is referred to as paediatric cataracts.

There are four types of congenital cataracts:

Anterior polar cataracts

These are well-defined, although often considered too small to require surgical treatment. These will be located at the front of the eye’s lens and are mostly linked to inherited genes.

Posterior polar cataracts

Unlike the other types of congenital cataracts, these appear on the back of the eye’s lens.

Nuclear cataracts

The most common form of congenital cataracts, these appear in the middle of the eye.

Cerulean cataracts

Typically, this type of cataracts doesn’t cause vision problems. They are easily distinguished by their small, pale blue dots concentrated on the lens of the eye.

What causes congenital cataracts?

Causes of congenital cataracts include, but are not limited to: inflammation, trauma, infections (such as measles, mumps and rubella) passed on from the mother during pregnancy, or a reaction to drugs.

An example of this would be tetracycline antibiotics used to treat infections in pregnant women, which have been shown to cause cataracts in new born babies.

How are congenital cataracts treated?

In some cases, cataracts do not cause visual impairments and do not need to be removed, however, if the condition does begin to affect your child’s sight, surgery may be recommended. Once a cataract is removed, it’s unlikely to grow back.

If your doctor feels that the cataract will affect the development of your child’s visual system, it’s possible that surgery may be considered if the child is under the age of three months. However, if your child only has a cataract/cataracts in one eye, surgery may be considered at a much earlier age.

During surgery, a small opening is made in the side of the cornea at the front of the eye. A section is used to remove the cloudy lens. The natural lens may be replaced with a plastic lens called an intraocular lens or IOL, a lens implant that can last for life and does not usually need replacing. Alternatively, a contact lens, as opposed to a lens implant, may be suggested.

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