Pediatric cataract has several potential causes. Congenital cataracts or cataracts present at birth may be due to genetics (i.e., inherited genes or genetic conditions) or an infection during pregnancy. Meanwhile, cataracts acquired during infancy and childhood may be due to eye trauma, infection, or specific medical conditions.
Congenital cataracts, often present in both eyes (i.e., bilateral), may be caused by an inherited gene that predisposes a child to having cataracts. One in five of those who have congenital cataracts has a family history of the condition. In some cases, the cause of congenital cataracts is a genetic condition like Down’s syndrome, which causes a chromosomal abnormality. A population-based study indicates infants with Down’s Syndrome have a 300 times higher risk of getting congenital pediatric cataracts than infants without the condition.
Some infections during a mother’s pregnancy may also increase an infant’s risk of congenital cataracts. These infections include German Measles (rubella), toxoplasmosis, chickenpox, cytomegalovirus, and herpes simplex virus.
An infection suffered by a baby or a child may lead to acquired pediatric cataracts, also known as infantile or juvenile cataracts. Ocular toxocariasis, an eye infection caused by a parasitic roundworm that may be present in animal faeces (commonly dogs and cats), is one such infection.
Medical conditions like galactosaemia and diabetes may also cause pediatric cataracts. Galactosaemia is characterised by the body’s inability to break down sugar galactose or the sugar in milk. Diabetes, meanwhile, is a condition that leads to unduly high sugar levels.
Finally, acquired pediatric cataracts may also be caused by eye trauma or an injury to the eye.