Contributed by: Dr Vidya C – Consultant Paediatric Ophthalmology – Sankara Eye Hospital
A new-born baby is often compared to a clay mold that is to be shaped and nurtured like a plant that enters this unknown world blank. While the process of parenting an infant is beautiful and important, it is also very fragile and needs devoted attention more so because a baby cannot even communicate clearly what he/she is going through and is mostly unaware of the same especially when it comes to a medical discomfort internally. This problem specifically holds true for an issue that the baby must be facing with his/her vision as they do not even know about it. Such concern arises mostly if the child has cataracts. Yes, while many believe that its only adults who are likely to get cataracts, babies and children can get them too.
A cataract is basically a cloudy area in the lens of the eye. If this area appears large or dense, it can cause blurry vision or even block the vision altogether. A cataract could exist in either one eye of the child or in each of the two.
The reasons behind your child having a cataract can vary:
– The child could be born with a cataract, to which doctors generally refer to as “congenital” which means the lens did not form properly during pregnancy. Congenital cataracts are likely to be dense, milky white opacities in the lens of an eye of the infant’s and can prevent normal visual development if not removed timely.
– Congenital cataracts can also happen when during pregnancy, the mother gets infections like measles or rubella, rubeola, chicken pox, cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex, herpes zoster, poliomyelitis, influenza, Epstein-Barr virus, syphilis, and toxoplasmosis.
– Congenital cataracts can also be caused by a chromosomal problem like Down syndrome sometimes.
– These can even be hereditary, meaning a baby might get it from his/her mother or father, who would have got cataracts in their childhood.
– These cataracts could be acquired too that means the child can also develop them after birth due to many possible causes like:
Complications from eye problems
Metabolic diseases like Diabetics
Owing to similar reasons, children or elder babies can also diagnosed with cataracts that are referred to as developmental cataracts.
FINDING OUT IF YOUR CHILD HAS CATARACT
Cataracts are not always visibly identified but when they can be, they appear like a white or gray spot or a reflection inside the pupil.
A regular vision check-up of the child is necessary to detect cataracts as early as possible. Initial vision screening begins with the newborn child itself and regular tests are continued through infancy and childhood. Check-ups are also important because babies cannot explain or even identify vision problems. The first examination of eyes should be at birth, which is usually done by the pediatrician.
One way to observe is that by the time the baby is 3 months old, he/she should be able to look around a room and track things with eyes. If not so, pediatric ophthalmologist need to be contacted.
Parents can also check if the child’s eyes are misaligned.
The treatment to remove cataracts is only surgery. However, if the cataract is small and does not affect the vision of the child then it may not need to be removed. But if it affects the eyesight, it must be removed at the earliest possibility else the vision can be affected in the long term.
The optimal time about when the surgery should be performed depends on the density as well as the location of the opacification, and are an expert’s decision. Experts usually suggest that the optimal time to intervene and remove a visually significant congenital cataracts is between the ages of 6 weeks and 3 months. To enable normal visual development, prevent amblyopia as well as blindness, cataract surgery should be conducted as soon as possible.
The early the diagnosis, the sooner the treatment, the more are the chances of saving the baby’s vision. If not timely taken care of, congenital cataracts lead to “lazy eye” or amblyopia which can further lead to other eye problems like strabismus, nystagmus and inability to fix a gaze upon objects. These issues can thoroughly affect personality, learning ability and even appearance which will ultimately affect the child’s entire life.