Cataracts: A-to-Z Guide from Diagnosis to Treatment to Prevention

Cataracts

Introduction to cataracts:

Most people think of the elderly when they think about cataracts, but cataracts can also occur in babies and children. They are a leading preventable and treatable cause of blindness in children.

What is cataracts?

The lens of the eye is our window to the world. Normally, this lens is crystal clear, transmitting and focusing light. A cataract is cloudiness of the lens.

Who gets cataracts?

Most of the time no rhyme or reason is found as to which babies get cataracts.

Cataracts tend to be more common in those born prematurely. Sometimes they run in families. They have also been associated with a number of prenatal infections, including chickenpox, CMV, herpes, influenza, measles, polio, rubella, and toxoplasmosis. They occur more commonly in chromosomal disorders such as Down syndrome. They are more common in those with inborn errors of metabolism such as galactosemia, with endocrine problems such as diabetes, and in association with certain medications, such as steroids. There has also been an association with eczema.

In addition, excessive sun exposure during childhood can lead to cataracts as an adult.

Even with all of these associations, for most cataracts the underlying cause is not found.

What are the symptoms of cataracts?

Cataracts are usually discovered because of a white reflection from the baby’s pupil. They are sometimes found when a child is examined for inability to focus both eyes on an object.

Cataracts result in vision loss or blindness until treated. Even mild cataracts that initially have a minimal impact on vision can lead to vision loss from amblyopia if not treated.

Is cataracts contagious?

No – although some of the causes of cataracts are contagious.

How long does cataracts last?

Cataracts last until treated. Even after a cataract is removed, amblyopia may last until treated.

How is cataracts diagnosed?

Cataracts are suspected on routine physical examination. They are characterized and diagnosed on a full eye exam.

How can cataracts be prevented?

Sunglasses protect children’s eyes from the UV rays and decrease the risk of cataracts in adulthood.

Cataracts are often impossible to prevent. Preventing maternal infections during pregnancy is the best bet for preventing cataracts in children. To prevent toxoplasmosis, for instance, avoid eating undercooked meat, cleaning cat litter, and digging in the soil with bare hands. For prevention of other cataract triggers, see the individual articles.

Related A-to-Z Information:

Amblyopia (Lazy eye), Astigmatism, Blocked Tear Duct, Cataracts, Chickenpox (Varicella), CMV (Cytomegalovirus), Colorblindness, Conjunctivitis (Pink eye), Deafness, Down Syndrome, Eczema, Farsightedness, Galactosemia, Glaucoma, Herpes Simplex, Influenza (Flu), Measles, Nearsightedness, Polio, Pseudostrabismus, Rubella (German measles), Strabismus (Crossed eye, Wandering eye, Wall eye), Stye, Sunburn, Toxoplasmosis, Type I Diabetes

Reviewed by: Khanh-Van Le-Bucklin, Liat Simkhay Snyder
Last reviewed: August 21, 2013
Dr. Alan Greene

Article written by

Dr. Greene is the founder of DrGreene.com (cited by the AMA as “the pioneer physician Web site”), a practicing pediatrician, father of four, & author of Raising Baby Green & Feeding Baby Green. He appears frequently in the media including such venues as the The New York Times, the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, & the Dr. Oz Show.