Facts About Lazy Eye / Amyblyopia
Amblyopia, also called lazy eye, is a disorder of sight. It involves decreased vision in an eye that otherwise appears normal. This disorder has been estimated to affect 1-5% of the population.
In amblyopia, visual stimulation either fails to be or is poorly transmitted through the optic nerve to the brain for a continuous period of time. It can also occur when the brain "turns off" the visual processing of one eye to prevent double-vision, for example in strabismus (crossed eyes). It often occurs during early childhood and results in poor or blurry vision.
Detecting the condition in early childhood increases the chance of successful treatment, especially if detected before the age of five. The earlier it is detected, and the underlying cause corrected with glasses or surgery, the better the long term outcomes.
Lazy Eye / Amyblyopia Challenges
Not all kids with amblyopia will have crossed or wandering eyes — in fact many have eyes that are properly aligned. If so, amblyopia is usually the result of an anatomical or structural abnormality that interferes with or blocks vision, such as a droopy eyelid or a cataract.
Lazy Eye / Amyblyopia Treatment
Treatment for amblyopia involves forcing the brain to pay attention to the images of the amblyopic or weaker eye so that vision in that eye gets stronger. This is done through glasses, eye patches or drops, surgery, or a combination of these treatments:
- Glasses. Glasses are prescribed when amblyopia is caused by severe refractive errors and/or anisometropia (when one eye sees more clearly than the other). Glasses help send clear, focused images to the brain, which will teach it to "switch on" the weaker eye. This allows the brain to use the eyes together and develop normal vision.
- Patches. In many cases, children affected by amblyopia must wear an opaque eye patch over their stronger or unaffected eye. The patch is worn for 2-6 hours a day while the child is awake for several months or years depending on the severity of the condition. There are two types of eye patches: the first type functions like a band-aid and is placed directly over the eye. The second type, designed specifically for kids who wear glasses, is a cloth patch that fits securely over one lens.
For parents, enforcing the use of an eye patch might seem challenging. But kids usually adapt well after an initial adjustment period, and the patch simply becomes part of their day. In the meantime, distraction with a new or exciting toy, a trip to the park, or just playing outside can help kids forget they're wearing an eye patch.
- Atropine drops. Sometimes despite parents' best efforts, some kids just refuse to wear their eye patch. In these cases, atropine drops may be used as an alternative to patches. Just as a patch blocks the vision in the unaffected or straight eye, atropine drops will temporarily blur out the vision in the strong eye, forcing the brain to recognize the images seen by the weaker eye.
- Surgery. If strabismus is the cause of a child's amblyopia and treatment with glasses, patches, or drops doesn't improve the alignment of the eyes, eye muscle surgery might be an option. Surgery also might be done if amblyopia is caused by a droopy eyelid or a cataract.
Surgery involves loosening or tightening the muscles that are causing the eye to wander. Although it is an invasive measure, surgery is considered safe and effective and usually does not require an overnight hospital stay.
Lazy Eye / Amyblyopia Prognosis
Although the best outcome is achieved if treatment is started before age 8, research has shown that children older than age 12 and some adults can show improvement in the affected eye.