When you think of cataracts, you probably associate the condition with older adults. Each year, about 20,000 children also develop the disease. While the care of adult cataract patients has advanced over the past twenty five years, the treatment of children has lagged behind — up until now.
Robyn had a cataract removed from her right eye. Radiation treatment from an earlier fight with cancer, traumatized the eye and caused permanent damage.
Robyn, Cataract Patient: “For me, I just couldn’t see anything. If I shut my left eye, and I waved your hand in front of my right eye, I could see motions but I couldn’t tell you how many fingers you had up.”
When the cataract was removed, a tiny, plastic lens called an “intraocular lens” was surgically implanted into her eye to restore vision.
Intraocular lenses are nothing new — more than a million adults with cataracts receive them each year — but until a few years ago, these permanent lenses were not even an option for children. Instead, youngsters had to wear thick eyeglasses or contact lenses for the rest of their lives.
Pediatric Ophthalmology: “When you put intraocular lenses in children, you have to expect a seventy year life span. Whereas with an elderly adult, it’s perhaps more like ten or fifteen years. So we needed to first make sure the lenses were stable and then we had to get a patient population that was old enough but still in the childhood range so that we knew that the lenses, their own lenses weren’t changing powers.”
Doctor uses intraocular lenses in children as young as three whose eyes have stopped growing.
Doctor: “The benefit is that the parent and the child do not have to go through the trauma of inserting a contact lens daily and disinserting the contact lens daily.”
Children born with a cataract which requires immediate removal are not candidates for the intraocular lens. However, those who develop the cataract when they are over the age of three, or older kids who experience a trauma to the eye are ideal for surgery. No one knows whether the lenses will hold up for a child’s lifetime, but based on studies, the future looks good.