What are congenital cataracts?
A congenital cataract is a clouding of the crystalline lens of the eye that is present at birth, preventing the child from seeing. Cataracts can impair vision, if they are large and completely cover the pupil (the central area of the eye, through which light enters).
They can be unilateral or bilateral and can be accompanied by other ocular abnormalities (corneal and retinal disorders) and are often hereditary.
They can also be caused by intrauterine infections, chromosomal syndromes, metabolic disorders and renal diseases. The ophthalmologist, in conjunction with the paediatrician, should always detect for these possibilities.
What causes them?
The causes of cataracts can be bilateral: an unknown cause, hereditary, metabolic or systemic diseases, maternal infection or associated ocular abnormalities. Unilateral causes can also be unknown or associated with other ocular abnormalities, trauma or infection.
How can they be prevented?
Hereditary cataracts, or those caused by other associated eye disorders, are not preventable. Eye check-ups are of great importance, since it is in the first weeks of life that children develop their visual ability. It is crucial to detect any problems early to facilitate corrective treatment.
In some cases, the paediatrician or the parents themselves detect the whitish clouding in the pupil. Sometimes, low vision brings with it strabismus (ocular deviation) or nystagmus (involuntary eye movement). If any of these symptoms appear, the child should be taken to an ophthalmologist.
The first weeks of life are of great importance for visual stimulation and to prevent the development of brain mechanisms that are associated with lazy eye. Babies need to receive visual stimuli from birth in order to ensure that vision develops in the correct way. This is why rapid treatment is an important factor.