While most cataracts occur in adults over 60, cataracts also impact around 1 in 5000 children in Australia* and if left untreated, can lead to blindness. Cataracts can be a serious eye health problem, however, with the right diagnosis and treatment plan, children can lead long and happy lives with minimal impact on their vision and overall health. Abernethy Owens Optometrists provide comprehensive eye care for children and are able to diagnose and assess for signs of cataracts in children.
What is a Cataract?
A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye. Whilst rare in children, they can affect one eye (unilateral) or both eyes (bilateral). Some cataracts are small and don’t cause any trouble, while other more progressive cataracts can impact a child’s vision.
What Causes Cataracts in Children?
In adults, cataracts typically occur due to aging, however in children, they may be born with a cataract (congenital), or it may develop later in life (acquired).
- Congenital cataracts – where babies are born with cataracts or develop them in childhood. These often occur in both eyes, but they may not affect the child’s vision and often do not need to be removed.
- Secondary cataracts – cataracts that form due to another illness such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, or an eye disease such as glaucoma. In some cases, the prolonged use of steroid medication can also cause this type of cataract.
- Traumatic cataracts – where cataracts are the result of an eye injury. They can occur straight after the injury or they can occur years later.
- Radiation cataracts - cataracts that appear after exposure to some types of radiation, such as cancer treatment.
What Are the Symptoms of Cataracts in a Child?
Symptoms can vary from child to child, however they can include:
- A pupil that looks white when a light is shone into it
- Eyes that are misaligned
- Rhythmic eye movements that can't be controlled – the eyes may go back and forth, up and down, around, or mixed
- Cloudy or blurry vision
- Sensitivity to light and glare
- Seeing a circle of light (halo) around an object
Sometimes a cataract can be so small that a child won’t notice a problem. Often, a child may only notice a problem when their visual demands change, for example a child may be able to play normally, but have difficulty reading.
Additionally, unlike adults, children can find it difficult to ascertain if a vision problem is present. As a child becomes older, any problems caused by a cataract will become more obvious.
How Are Cataracts Diagnosed?
An optometrist or eye specialist will ask about the child’s health history and then follow with an eye exam. They will perform a visual acuity test, which checks the child’s ability to see from different distances. They may also dilate the child’s pupils. This makes the pupils wider, enabling the optometrist to get a better view of the eye's lens, retina, and optic nerve.
What Are the Treatments?
A treatment plan will depend on the child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on the size, location and severity of the cataracts.
Options may include:
- Doing nothing - if doctors consider the cataract is not of a size or location that needs to be removed.
- Glasses or contact lenses.
- Lensectomy - a surgical removal of the cloudy lens and replacing it with an artificial lens.
- Occlusion therapy (patching) - this is more likely if they only had cataract in one eye.
There are no proven methods of treating cataracts with oral medicines or topical treatments applied to the surface of the eye.
Can Cataracts in a Child be Prevented?
Certain types of cataracts in children can't be prevented. However, a lifetime of sun exposure may lead to the development of cataracts later in life. Ensure your child wears sunglasses and a hat when going outdoors from an early age.
Need an Eye Sight Test? Floreat Locals Turn to Abernethy Owens
With 5 locations throughout Perth, there is sure to be an Abernethy Owens practice in your local area. Our highly skilled and friendly staff are ready to help with all your eye care needs. Book an appointment online now.
*Wirth MG, Russell-Eggitt IM, Craig JE, Elder JE, Mackey DA. Aetiology of congenital and paediatric cataract in an Australian population. Br J Ophthalmol 2002;86(7):782-786.