Amblyopia, which is also called “lazy eye”, is a disorder that affects the visual development in children. Vision may not develop to full 20/20 vision, usually in one eye, due to a high refractive error (need for glasses) in both eyes, or in one eye compared to the other. Or, it can be the result of the 2 eyes not working together as a team, with one eye drifting inward or outward. Additionally, amblyopia can result from the affected eye(s) not receiving clear, focused visual stimulation very early in life. (For example, it may be due to an eye being covered for some reason.) Ambylopia usually results in permanently reduced vision if it is not treated early and properly.
What are the symptoms of Amblyopia?
Children are typically born with amblyopia, but the symptoms may only start in early childhood. Some signs of amblyopia in children are an eye drifting inward or outward, the eyes not working together, squinting, closing one eye in order to see better, poor general vision, headaches, and eyestrain. Usually caretakers such as parents, caregivers, doctors, or nurses notice these symptoms and recommend the child for treatment. However, it is not uncommon for a child not to notice a problem, as they have always seen this way, especially if one eye is seeing well and can compensate.
What are the causes of Amblyopia?
Strabismus is often the cause of amblyopia. Strabismus is when the eyes are not aligning correctly. Amblyopia can also be caused when there is a large difference between the eyes in refractive errors (prescription much higher in one eye than the other). For example, one eye is nearsighted, while the other is farsighted. If amblyopia is not treated, the brain will learn to disregard the vision in the eye with amblyopia. The eye that is disregarded does not develop fully and the reduced vision can be permanent. This is why it is very important to get early treatment.
How is Amblyopia treated?
There are several treatments for amblyopia, depending on the cause. Treatment may include eye glasses, vision therapy or using a patch on the better eye. Other treatments may involve using eye drops to blur the vision in the good eye in order to force the “lazy” eye to work, or surgery to correct an eye that is not aligned properly.
Vision therapy consists of vision “exercises”, aimed at teaching the eyes to work together. Some of the techniques are designed to stimulate the “lazy” eye or teach better focusing skills.
Some doctors use atropine eye drops instead of an eye patch to treat amblyopia. These drops blur vision in the child’s better eye, forcing the weaker eye to work harder and get stronger.
If your child has developed amblyopia because of uncorrected vision, sometimes all that is needed is a pair of eyeglasses. When there is astrong uncorrected prescription, or when there is a large difference in prescription between the two eyes, sometimes amblyopia can result. Your eye doctor may recommend eye patch therapy in addition to corrective lenses.
Strabismus surgery is usually required if the amblyopia is due to a large eye turn. This type of surgery aligns the eyes and corrects the problem within the eye muscles. Vision therapy may be necessary to train the eyes to work together or to stimulate the retina after strabismus surgery.
Amblyopia must be treated as early as possible, as there is no chance that it will resolve by itself. Untreated amblyopia can lead to permanent vision loss in that eye and reduced depth perception. The most critical time to treat amblyopia is age 6 or earlier.