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What are Cataracts?

A cataract is a cloudy area over the lens of the eye. Cataracts can affect one or both eyes. Childhood cataracts are rare: they occur in one to three in 10,000 children.


What happens when your child has Cataract(s)?

When your child has a cataract, the lens cannot focus the rays of light onto the retina normally. Instead, the lens produces blurry images, which reduce the child's vision.

Your child's vision might be mildly or seriously affected by a cataract, depending on how big it is and where it covers the lens. A cataract will not affect your child's vision if it is very small or away from the centre of the lens.​


Causes of Cataract(s)?

A cataract can be congenital (a person is born with it) or can be acquired or developmental (it appears later in childhood or in adulthood).

Common causes include:

  • heredity (inheriting a cataract from a parent)

  • trauma (injury) to the eye

  • radiation (treatment for cancer)

  • medication (for example steroids)

  • other illnesses or conditions (for example Down syndrome)

  • infection (for example German measles).

In many cases, however, the cause of a cataract is not known.​

Cataracts infographic

Checking your child's eyes for Cataract(s)?


The ophthalmologist will carefully examine your child's eyes. Here is what you can expect during the exam.

  • Your child will have special eye drops to make their pupils bigger. These drops sting at first but only for about 10 seconds. They may be repeated.

  • Since your child needs to be very still when the eyes are checked, they may be wrapped in a blanket and held down gently, especially if they are very young or too upset to stay still on their own.

  • When the drops start to work, usually after about 30 minutes, the ophthalmologist will shine a bright light into your child's eyes and use different instruments to help check them.

Being held down and having a bright light shone in their eyes will make your child uncomfortable, but they should not feel any pain.

After the exam, the eye doctor will explain the condition of your child's eyes. If there is a cataract, the doctor will tell you and talk to you about the best treatment for your child.


Treatment for Cataract(s)?

Cataracts do not go away by themselves, except in a few rare situations.


Mild cataract: If the cataract is small and does not affect your child's vision, the doctor may decide not to treat it at all or may prescribe special eye drops to dilate (widen) the pupil to allow more light to enter the eye. If your child needs eye drops, make sure you carefully follow the instructions for putting them in.


Serious cataract: If the cataract is more serious, your child will need surgery to remove it. Cataracts cannot be removed with medication or lasers.

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