When one hears the word ‘Cataract’, it instantly brings up images of seniors wearing thick dark glasses. However, the sad truth is that children could get cataracts as well. It is not common but it exists nevertheless.
What is a cataract and how is it diagnosed in children ?
When the eye’s lens starts clouding, it is known as a cataract. Typically, the eye’s lens is supposed to be clear to enable it to send clear images to the retina. Sometimes, protein starts clumping in the eye which prevents this transfer of clear images. This protein builds slowly, over time, and eventually ends up covering the entire lens. This is the whitish film that one sees over the iris in people who have advanced cataracts. Cataracts could form over both eyes but usually, they do not affect both eyes at the same time equally.
While not very common, when these cataracts are formed in children’s eyes, it is known as paediatric cataract. Children could be born with cataracts or it can develop in older children as well. A child’s eyes and brain are still developing till a certain age, therefore, it becomes even more imperative that paediatric cataracts are treated with a certain urgency. If not, it can lead to permanent damage to their vision.
Diagnosis of cataracts is done differently for different ages in children. In new-born children, their eyes are screened for vision problems at the new-born screening soon after birth and again when the baby is 6 to 8 weeks old. For older children, cataracts will be revealed as a part of regular eye examinations or after an eye injury.
As a parent, it is important to keep track of your bay’s eye movements. If your baby seems to have trouble tracking objects across the room by the time they are 4 to 5 months old, please consult your paediatrician. For slightly older children, they may complain of their vision not being clear, or seeing double. In such cases as well, it would be prudent to meet the paediatrician.
Treatment of Paediatric cataract
While early detection is key for paediatric cataract, treatment is usually a multi-pronged approach that includes cataract surgery. Because the surgery will be performed in children, the tools and methods are different from the ones used during adult cataract surgery.
If the child is a new-born, the surgery should ideally be performed by the time the baby is a month or two old. However, or older children, the timing of surgery will depend on how much the child’s eyesight is impacted. However, surgery is an eventuality that has to take place.
One major difference in paediatric cataract surgery is that the child will be under general anaesthesia meaning they will not be conscious during the surgery.
Also, it is important to be aware that most children will need spectacles even after cataract surgery.
Post Cataract Surgery Care and Prognosis
Even though the cataract surgery itself takes place under general anaesthesia, being children, they heal quickly. Very young children, especially, usually are back to normal the same day but will still need some protective covering over the affected eye.
Slightly older children might be uncomfortable for a few days, mainly due to some discomfort or itching. They too will need to wear the patch. The removal of the patch, in both younger and older children depends on various factors that the doctor will evaluate.
Catching a child’s cataract early and treating it are key to preserving their vision and ensuring they see well not just in childhood but well into adulthood. Hopefully, this answers some questions on paediatric cataract and its treatment.