Causes of cataract in childhood

It is perfectly normal for parents to want to know exactly what caused the cataract to their children.

It is perfectly normal for parents to want to know exactly what caused the cataract to their children. There are a few times that they also feel remorse and wonder if some of their habits, especially the mother during pregnancy, were responsible for the unfortunate incident.

The truth is that in an otherwise healthy child, which is growing up and developing normally, the cause of cataract is not usually found. In such instances it appears that heredity plays the most important role. The mode of expression of the responsible gene is not the same for all the family members. For example, the same gene may lead to a slight contralateral blurring of the parent who is the primary carrier, but in children develop as dense bilateral cataract. Family history and careful examination of some close relatives can help identify a hereditary cataract.

Many situations in childhood can also cause cataract. All, however, have serious effects to the child’s health and cataract is just one of the symptoms.

Some maternal infections during pregnancy can cross the placenta and affect the fetus. Toxoplasmosis, the rubella, and herpes infections are the main ones.

Congenital rubella occurs when a pregnant woman has never become sick from rubella before (which means she has no immunity). The rubella virus is highly toxic to the fetus. 50% of the attacks in the 1st trimester of pregnancy will cause miscarriage due to serious damage to the fetus’ organs. If the fetus survives, it will present eye problems (glaucoma and cataract), abnormalities of the heart etc.

If a pregnant woman has the misfortune of suffering from rubella in the first trimester of pregnancy, the rule is to recommend the termination of pregnancy. Infection in the 2nd and 3rd trimester of pregnancy (in which abortion is no longer permitted) will cause the child severe microcephaly and mental retardation. For these reasons every woman before getting pregnant, should be checked and, if not immune, should be vaccinated.

Various metabolic disorders (especially deficiencies of some enzymes) such as galactosemia, can cause bilateral cataract usually accompanied by other systemic symptoms. Inflammation within the eye such as uveitis, can also affect the lens. Such infections occur alone or as part of a systemic disease, as for example the juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

Injuries of the lens by an object, like fragments that were leveled and pierce the child's eye, are also a common cause of cataract, especially in older children.