Anterior polar cataracts
These are well-defined, although often considered too small to require surgical treatment. Located at the front of the eye's lens, they associate with inherited genes.
Posterior polar cataracts
Unlike the other types of congenital cataracts, these appear on the back of the eye’s lens.
The most common form of congenital cataracts, these appear in the middle of the eye.
Typically, this type of cataracts doesn't cause vision problems. Their small, pale blue dots easily distinguish them and are concentrated on the lens of the eye.
There is a range of reasons as to why children may be born with cataracts or develop them. In many cases, however, it is not possible to identify the exact cause.
Possible causes of congenital cataracts include the following:
Parents can sometimes pass on a faulty gene to their children which causes them to be born with cataracts.
Cataracts can also link to chromosome abnormalities and conditions such as Downs Syndrome which are caused by these abnormalities.
Infections during pregnancy
Various infections caught by the mother during pregnancy can also cause congenital cataracts. Viruses include rubella, toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus, chickenpox and herpes simplex virus.
A reaction to drugs
An example of this would be tetracycline antibiotics used to treat infections in pregnant women, which have proven to cause cataracts in newborn babies.
In some cases, cataracts do not cause visual impairments; however, if the condition does begin to affect your child's sight, surgery may be recommended. Once a cataract is removed, it's unlikely to grow back.
If your doctor feels that the cataract will affect the development of your child's visual system, surgery, if the child is under the age of three months, is considered. However, if your child only has a cataract/cataracts in one eye, surgery may be required at a much earlier age.
Unilateral cataracts refer to having cataracts in one eye. In this case, the brain learns to switch off from the eye with a reduced vision. Instead, the brain relies on the eye without the cataract. When the brain does this, this prevents visual development in the eye with the cataract.
If the unilateral cataract is located in the centre of the lens and appears hefty, surgery to remove the cataract will take place early on to achieve the best visual outcome for the child. If this is not the case, using dilating eye drops is recommended in the healthy eye to force the child to use the eye, which is affected.
Nevertheless, even if the cataract is small, it can still cause amblyopia and therefore may still need cataract surgery.
Bilateral cataracts only affect a small area of a child's lenses. They can cause a limited visual system to develop. Some vision may worsen permanently. If the cataract is dense and affects your baby's vision, then an operation will be performed early on.
During surgery, the surgeon will make a small opening in the side of the cornea to remove the cloudy lens. The natural lens gets replaced with an artificial plastic lens called an intraocular lens or IOL, a lens implant that can last for life and does not usually need replacing. Alternatively, a contact lens or glasses, as opposed to a lens implant, may be suggested. Babies may find it difficult to wear glasses so doctors may recommend contact lenses for practicality.