Cataracts in Children
What Are Cataracts?
Clouding or opacity of the eye’s normally-clear lens (located behind the colorful iris) is considered a cataract. When cataracts are present, incoming light and visual “pictures” are scattered before reaching the back of the eye (to the degree of the cataract’s severity).
If cataracts are present at birth, they are called congenital cataracts, and if formed in the first six months, they are called infantile cataracts. Cataracts can come in different forms and locations on the lens, and the density of the cataracts impacts the degree of vision loss.
How Are Cataracts Diagnosed?
Cloudy lenses may be identified visually by parents or a pediatrician, or they may be found during a preventative eye examination if there is a known family history of cataracts or other visual impairment. They may also be found during an eye examination when another visual impairment has been previously identified, or they may go undetected until symptoms (such as apparent poor vision, aversion to bright light, or strabismus) present in an otherwise healthy child.
Regardless, an ophthalmologist will diagnose clouded lenses as cataracts during a dilated eye exam.
Are There Treatments for Cataracts?
Young children with cataracts must be followed closely by their eye care specialist to ensure the cataract is not harming the child’s visual development. If a cataract causes minor visual issues in one eye, patching the healthy eye will encourage the eye with the cataract to continue functioning. If cataracts cause major visual issues in one or both eyes, surgery to remove the cloudy lens is the only effective treatment. After the surgery, young children are frequently given contact lenses or glasses to act as an exterior lens. In older children, the cloudy lens can be replaced with an intraocular artificial lens.
How Would You Describe the Eyesight of One with Cataracts and How Will My Child Function with It?
Cataracts cause a varying degree of blurry vision and dulling of color vibrancy.
If a cataract is present in one eye and your child has good vision in the other, he will not technically have “low vision.” However, diminished or absent vision in one eye can affect how your child functions. Some children find it straining to read from a chalkboard or catch an oncoming ball, and many children struggle with depth perception.
If cataracts are present in both eyes, your child’s vision can range from good to very poor. Your child’s teacher of students with visual impairments should perform a functional vision assessment to determine how your child uses remaining vision and a learning media assessment to determine which senses your child primarily uses to get information from the environment. These assessments, along with an orientation and mobility assessment conducted by a mobility specialist, will give the team information needed to make specific recommendations for your child to best access learning material and his or her environment.
You may learn your child has difficulty recognizing faces and facial expressions, accessing information from a distance, identifying small images or letters on paper, or travelling safely. If this is the case, your child may benefit from travel training from the mobility specialist, increased contrast of the environment, increased contrast of print by using a CCTV or screen-magnification software, and increased room and task lighting. Your child may also benefit from assistive technology to more easily write, read, use the computer, and access information and from techniques and additional accommodations to perform activities with limited vision.
Furthermore, your child may have discomfort and poorer vision in bright light as well as difficulty seeing in dimly lit environments. For daytime travel, recreation, or work, use sunglasses and hats. An infrared night scope may help with evening travel.
Resources for Families of Children with Cataracts
- Cataract by the American Association of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus
- Cataracts in Children, Congenital and Acquired by the American Academy of Ophthalmology