Causes – Are cataracts hereditary?

There is little evidence to suggest that age-related cataracts are hereditary, although there are some studies that suggest you’re at higher risk of developing age-related cataracts if you have close family who have had cataracts as well. 

Cataracts can, however, be ‘inherited’ from a parent if issues arise during pregnancy. This type of cataract is usually present from birth and is known as a congenital cataract. Congenital cataracts can occur in babies for many reasons, not just due to inherited tendencies. 

For example, congenital cataracts can be caused by infection, reactions to drugs administered to the mother during pregnancy, metabolic issues, diabetes, trauma and various other issues. 

If the mother develops an infection like measles, rubella, chicken pox, herpes, flu, syphilis or cytomegalovirus, then this can result in the baby developing congenital cataracts. 

As with age-related cataracts, congenital cataracts cause cloudy opacities in the eye’s natural lens and will, if well developed, cause vision impairment in a child who is born with them. 

The only treatment for congenital cataracts is cataract surgery. This is usually recommended to be carried out between the ages of 4 weeks and 2 months. Unlike age-related cataract surgery, though, where the replacement lens (IOL) will usually last the patient for the rest of their life, congenital cataract patients will need their IOLs to be regularly replaced as they, and thus their eyes, grow. 

In some cases, it’s possible to restore a child’s vision using contact lenses or glasses, once the cataract has been removed, so that IOL implantation need only be performed once, once the child has stopped growing. 

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