Congenital Cataracts: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Contrary to popular belief, cataracts affect not only the elderly. Babies can be born with cataracts, while others develop them in early childhood. Congenital cataracts produce the same effects as adult cataracts, a clouding of the eye lens.

They make it difficult for the eyes and brain to work together effectively. It affects the development of normal sight and proper eye movement. A child may have cataracts in one or both eyes, leading to blurry or loss of vision.

Developing Congenital Cataracts

The lens behind the iris is normally clear, allowing light to focus images clearly on the retina. The development of cataracts causes the lens to become cloudy, and images become distorted and blurry.

A baby with congenital cataracts may have other eye issues, such as amblyopia, strabismus, retinal detachment, or glaucoma. Sometimes, a cataract may not be detected in infancy and only becomes apparent when the child is older.

congenital cataracts

Causes of Congenital Cataracts

When children are born with cataracts, the condition may be hereditary. Cataracts may also develop due to metabolic problems, infections, diabetes, or drug reactions. Sometimes, cataracts are caused by trauma, inflammation, or Down syndrome.

Medications such as antibiotics taken during pregnancy to treat infections may cause cataracts in newborns. The medications help treat chicken pox, measles, herpes, influenza, syphilis, toxoplasmosis, and poliomyelitis.

Symptoms of Congenital Cataracts

Cataracts may not always be visible, and a baby may not know they have an eye issue. Children will not always complain of vision problems, especially young ones. But in some cases, the child may complain of vision problems. Symptoms of the condition include:

  • A gray or white spot on the eye pupil.
  • Pupils that appear white.
  • Blurry vision.
  • Cloudy vision.
  • Double vision.
  • Reduced vision.
  • Colors appear faded.
  • Lights appearing too bright.

Diagnosing Congenital Cataracts

In many cases, congenital cataracts are detected soon after birth, before the infant leaves the hospital. In other cases, they are detected by the pediatrician during infant wellness exams.

Sometimes, they may go undetected for years, mainly because children do not recognize issues with their eyesight. If a child struggles to focus or appears overly sensitive to light, it can indicate the presence of cataracts. An eye doctor will conduct an examination that includes checking intraocular pressure, a slit lamp exam, and other clinical tests.

Treating Congenital Cataracts

Treatment for congenital cataracts will depend on the severity or type. In most cases, surgery is necessary to remove cataracts. They are often removed within days after the child's birth. The surgery on infants or young children is performed under general anesthesia.

Working on the small eyes requires extreme precision with special surgical techniques and instruments. The clouded lens is broken up into tiny pieces using a special device before being removed. Cataract surgery is safe, and children experience minimal discomfort or pain.

After cataract surgery, infants wear contact lenses as the eye changes rapidly in the early years. Intraocular lenses can be implanted to replace the natural lens. Children may also need to wear eyeglasses, primarily when cataracts affect both eyes.

For more about the causes, symptoms, and treatments of congenital cataracts, visit Progressive Ophthalmology Surgical & Medical Eye Care at our Queens, New York office. Call 718-565-2020 to schedule an appointment today.