Usually you hear about cataracts as an eye problem that older people deal with. However, cataracts can also happen in children for a variety of reasons. A cataract is any situation in which the normally clear lens in the eye gets cloudy. This could happen from birth and be a result of a developmental abnormality of the eye, an infection that occurred during pregnancy, or a hereditary condition where an abnormal gene carried in the family causes cataracts. Cataracts could also form at later points in childhood due to eye injuries or other eye or systemic diseases. Some cataracts might be very mild and not affect vision that significantly. In these cases we will just carefully monitor the cataract to make sure it is not causing problems. On the other hand, if a cataract is severe enough that it is impacting the child’s vision, than they may need cataract surgery. This can be an urgent situation the younger the child is because the resulting blurry vision could cause amblyopia, which can possibly result in life long vision loss by preventing the brain from properly learning how to use the eye.
When necessary pediatric cataract surgery can be performed to remove the cloudy lens much the same way as it is done in older adults. An artificial lens implant can then be placed inside the eye, although in babies we often need to leave them without a lens implant. After cataract surgery, the child may need treatment with glasses, contact lenses, or eye patching to help aid their visual recovery. Here at Spokane Eye Clinic, both of our pediatric ophthalmologists perform small incision cataract surgery for children when it is necessary.