The lens of the eye is usually crystal clear. When the lens of the eye is cloudy or has a solid, milky coloring, the eye has a cataract. About 3 out of every 10,000 children have a cataract, although this number varies throughout the world.
A child can be born with a cataract or a cataract may develop after the child is born. Many cataracts in children are inherited. Sometimes cataracts can occur along with other conditions that may be the result of a genetic or metabolic issue. Some cataracts are caused by the use of medications such as steroids. Eye trauma can also result in a cataracts.
Cataracts can be small or large. Small cataracts often do not need treatment because vision develops normally even if the cataract is left in place. Larger cataracts can cause severe vision loss in children. A larger cataract causes decreased vision by blocking the light ray path to the retina (the back part of the eye). When this occurs in an infant or young child, the result can be permanent vision loss, a condition called amblyopia.
Surgery for Cataracts
Cataracts are treated with surgery. In young children a patch must be used over the normal eye for several hours a day to give the eye that has undergone cataract surgery a better chance to develop good vision. This is an important step in the treatment of the cataract and often needs to be done every day for many years.
Cataract surgery is not done with a laser. The cataract is removed through a tiny incision that is made into the eye. An opening is then made in the front of the lens capsule (a bag containing the lens). The very soft inner part of the lens is removed from this capsule. Younger children may require a second opening in the back of the lens capsule to allow removal of some vitreous gel that is found behind the lens. When possible, a small artificial lens may be placed inside of the empty lens capsule to help the child focus. When it is not possible to place a lens inside of the eye during cataract surgery, the child will need to wear a contact lens on the surface of the eye. The stitches that are used during cataract surgery will dissolve over time and do not require removal.