A common myth surrounding cataracts is that only the elderly are affected by them. The truth is around the age of 40 years old, the proteins in the lens of the eye begin to break down and clump together. This clump eventually clouds the lens of the eye, and this cloudiness is what is known as a cataract. There are 4 stages of cataract development and typically by stage 3, patients will require surgery. In addition to various severity levels of cataract development, there are also different types of cataracts. While most cataracts are attributed to natural aging, other cataract types include traumatic cataracts (caused by serious eye injury), secondary cataracts (new cataracts that develop after cataract removal surgery), radiation cataracts (brought on by radiation treatment as well as exposure to ultraviolet rays) and pediatric cataracts, also known as congenital cataracts.

What are congenital cataracts? A congenital cataract is the clouding of the lens that presents in the eye either before birth or sometime during the first year of a baby’s life. The first sign of a congenital cataract is the pupil of the eye looks gray or white instead of black. A baby with a cataract cannot see well through the affected eye and may begin to develop related problems caused by the cataract. The developing brain and eyes must work together to develop normal sight, control eye movements properly and interpret the images they see. Eye problems associated with congenital cataracts include some potential vision loss known as amblyopia (lazy eye), a retinal tear or detachment, eyes that are misaligned known as strabismus and glaucoma, pressure that buildups inside the eye leading to optic damage.

Congenital cataracts can be caused by an infection before or soon after birth, premature birth and family history. Genetic causes account for approximately 50% of all congenital cataract cases. Infections during the first year of life that may be responsible for congenital cataracts include chickenpox, cytomegalovirus, herpes, HIV, rubella, syphilis, toxoplasmosis and juvenile diabetes. Some congenital cataracts are too small to affect vision so they will be left untreated. In other cases, ophthalmologists treat cataracts in the same way as age-related cataracts, through surgery to remove the cloudy part of the lens and inputting a flexible plastic artificial lens implant. Most children will need to wear prescription glasses or contact lenses after having cataract surgery because vision may be reduced to some extent. Congenital cataracts are rare with an estimation of 1 to 6 cases per 10,000 live births and are responsible for nearly 10% of all vision loss in children worldwide.

For more information about cataracts, visit WEBSITE. To schedule your comprehensive eye exam for an assessment of your eye health and to protect your vision, call Pendleton Eye at 760-758-2008.