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Cataracts in children

What is a cataract?

A congenital cataract is a cataract that appears when a baby is born or shortly afterwards. A cataract can happen in one or in both eyes. A developmental cataract is one that develops after a few months or years after birth.

A cataract is when the lens in the eye becomes cloudy or hazy and means that the image seen by the eye is cloudy and unclear which affects the development of eyesight.

Illustration of diagram of eye with lens, retina and optic nerve

How are cataracts diagnosed in children?

New-born babies have an eye test shortly after birth to make sure that they do not have a cataract. If there are any concerns then babies are referred to the eye department.

What are the symptoms of cataracts in children?

Most children with a cataract in only 1 eye usually have good vision in the other. If both eyes are affected children are more likely to have blurred vision.

In babies and young children, cataracts can be mild and may have little or no effect on their vision. However, severe cataracts can affect the development of sight during childhood and need treatment.

What causes childhood cataracts?

Cataracts can be inherited from parents. However most of the time we do not know what has caused cataracts. For 9 in 10 children who have a cataract in one eye, and for 1 in 3 children who have cataracts in both eyes, we do not know what has caused cataracts.

How is a childhood cataract treated?

Cataracts can be removed by an operation. However, the cataracts will only be removed if they are severe enough to be causing your child poor vision.

If cataracts are left untreated, or treated late, this can lead to reduced vision. It is important to do surgery as early as possible to remove the cataract.

What happens after the operation?

After a cataract has been removed more light will enter the eye giving your child the potential to see better.

Removing the cataract leaves your child very longsighted after the surgery. The eye will now need help to focus again as it is important that your child has a clear picture of the world. This is done by replacing the removed cataract with another lens. This can be a lens in a pair or glasses, a contact lens or in older children a small plastic lens inside the eye.

Why might we need to use eye patches?

Even after the cataract has been removed there may still be a lot of work to do. If your child has one eye stronger than the other, you will need to cover the stronger eye with a patch for part of the day to encourage the vision in the weaker eye to catch up.

Unfortunately, patching can be difficult for children, but is necessary to improve vision in the operated eye.

Conact us

If you have any questions or concerns, please call and explain that you explain your child has had cataracts removed and contact lenses fitted and needs to be seen urgently by the ophthalmologist on-call.

On Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm call:

  • Ophthalmic nurses
    0114 271 7000 and ask for bleep 250
  • Ophthalmic secretaries
    0114 271 7468 or 0114 271 7520
  • Sheffield Children’s Hospital Contact Lens Clinic:
    Jon Whittle, Shirley Blundell, Victoria Knight or Claire Whalley on 0114 271 7481.

In an emergency please call the Emergency Department
0114 271 7000.


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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

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Western Bank
S10 2TH

United Kingdom

Switchboard: 0114 271 7000

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