Understanding Congenital Cataracts, Cataracts in Newborns

Congenital cataract is a condition when the lens of the eye in a newborn appears cloudy. If not treated early by a doctor, congenital cataracts can cause vision problems or even blindness in babies.

Normally, the lens of the eye is colorless or clear (transparent). The clear lens of the eye is used to facilitate the refraction of light into the retina of the eye. If the lens of the eye is cloudy or affected by cataracts, light will be difficult to refract into the eye, causing vision problems.

Cataracts are more common in older people. However, in certain cases, this eye disorder can also occur in newborns. Cataracts that occur in newborns are called congenital cataracts. This type of cataract can occur in one or both eyes of the baby.

Symptoms and Causes of Congenital Cataract

Cataracts in newborns are not always visible to the naked eye. This condition is generally only detected when the doctor performs an examination of the baby's eyes.

In addition to cloudy eye lenses, infants or children with cataracts may also experience other symptoms, such as:

  • Less responsive or responsive to light
  • Difficult to distinguish colors
  • Eyes look white when exposed to light
  • Uncontrollable eye movements or nystagmus

Congenital cataracts are usually hereditary. This means, a baby is more at risk of developing this condition if one or both parents have had cataracts.

In addition to heredity, there are several other factors that can also cause congenital cataracts, including:

1. Infection

A newborn can develop congenital cataracts if he or she has had an infection while in the womb.

Some infectious diseases that can cause babies to be born with congenital cataracts are TORCH infection, chickenpox, measles, polio, Epstein-Barr virus infection, and flu.

2. Born prematurely

Babies born prematurely have a higher risk of developing congenital cataracts. This is because the eye lens in premature babies is generally not fully formed.

3. Genetic disorders

Congenital cataracts can also occur due to genetic disorders that make the baby's eye lens not formed normally. Examples of genetic disorders that can cause congenital cataracts are Down's syndrome, Patau's syndrome, and metabolic disorders such as galactosemia.

4. Drug side effects

The fetus is at risk for congenital cataracts if the mother takes certain drugs, such as: tetracycline during pregnancy. This antibiotic is used to treat bacterial infections.

5. Injury to the eye

Eye injuries can also be one of the causes for newborns to develop cataracts. This condition can be caused by many things, such as radiation exposure to the baby's eyes.

In addition to some of the causes above, congenital cataracts can also occur due to other factors, such as diabetes or autoimmune disorders in infants.

Diagnosis of Congenital Cataract

Congenital cataracts are often difficult to recognize in the early stages. However, this condition can be detected when a newborn undergoes a physical examination by a pediatrician. If a baby is suspected of having congenital cataracts, the pediatrician may refer him to an ophthalmologist for further eye examinations.

In diagnosing congenital cataracts, the ophthalmologist will perform a physical examination of the baby's eyes and additional examinations, such as ophthalmoscopy, blood tests, eye pressure checks, to CT scans and ultrasound of the eye.

In children, the doctor may perform a complete eye exam and visual acuity test to determine if a congenital cataract is causing the child to have visual disturbances.

Congenital Cataract Treatment

Congenital cataracts can be treated with cataract surgery. However, this operation is generally only done if the congenital cataract that occurs is severe enough or has caused visual disturbances. This surgery aims to remove the damaged eye lens and replace it with an artificial eye lens.

Even after getting new eye lenses, babies usually still need assistive devices such as glasses or contact lenses so that their vision can function better.

As parents, Mom and Dad are certainly worried if your little one suffers from congenital cataracts. However, with early detection and treatment, congenital cataracts can be overcome and the little one's vision function can improve. Early treatment can also prevent permanent blindness and developmental disorders.

Therefore, fathers and mothers are advised to immediately consult a pediatrician or ophthalmologist if they find signs of congenital cataracts in their little one.