A congenital cataract is a condition that a baby is born with, or that develops shortly after birth where the lens of the eye is cloudy instead of perfectly clear. The lens is located at the front of the eye and focuses light and images on the back of the eye on the retina. It is essential for vision, and if it is not transparent, vision will be blurry. If a cataract is present, the baby's immature nervous system will not receive the visual stimulation that it needs to develop the vision pathways in the brain, and permanent vision loss will occur. If the cataract is small it may not affect vision very much, but it can lead to amblyopia (also called “lazy eye” which is a type of reduced vision) where the brain blocks out the signals of the weaker eye. Over time the optic nerve between the brain and the affected eye becomes non-functional which will lead to permanent vision loss. Congenital cataracts can affect one or both eyes. If both are affected, one eye's cataract might be more severe than the other. The cataract will be surgically removed and vision will be corrected using glasses or contact lenses. Children may need to have their stronger eye patched for several hours a day so that they are forced to use their weaker eye. This patching (if done in a child under age 5 years of age) will cause the weaker eye's vision to improve over time. The outlook for children with successfully treated cataracts can be near-normal vision, if no complications occur and they use their corrective lenses. Continuous follow-up by pediatric eye specialists with extensive experience with congenital cataracts will be very important so that the growing child can take part in any new developments that might further improve the condition's outcome. Our program has been tracking congenital cataracts among live births in select counties since 2005 and are gradually expanding statewide.
- Using data from births to Hennepin and Ramsey county residents between 2007-2011, we found that 1.2 babies were born with congenital cataract per 10,000 births.
- Using this data, we estimate about 9 babies are born with congenital cataract every year in Minnesota.
Parental education and support are essential, and local, regional and national organizations may be very helpful.