What Is Amblyopia (Lazy Eye)?
Amblyopia, also known as “lazy eye,” is a common eye condition among children and even some adults. With this condition being so common, our patients typically have questions regarding lazy eye, especially in young children, so we have gathered some of your frequently asked questions and sat down with Maria E. Lim, MD to get them answered once and for all. Read on for her responses to your questions about lazy eye.
What Is Amblyopia (aka Lazy Eye)?
Amblyopia is decreased vision in one or both eyes due to abnormal visual development. Normal vision develops in the first few years of life. When the vision of an eye is blocked, the brain and eye are not properly stimulated.
“Strabismus (also known as eye misalignment), a glasses prescription, or physical blockage in the vision due to cataract or droopy eyelids can cause amblyopia,” Dr. Lim says. “The brain processes the normal or clear image and essentially says, ‘Why do I want to see out of the blurry eye when I can use the clearer eye?’ and the brain ignores the lazy eye.”
How Is Lazy Eye Diagnosed?
A lazy eye is diagnosed after a complete pediatric eye examination, which includes checking your child’s vision, eye alignment, and dilating the pupils to look at the back of the eyes.
“Some forms of amblyopia are easily seen by parents, for example, a large strabismus or eye misalignment,” Dr. Lim says. “Other forms, like high refractive error, aren’t as obvious. In this case, children may squint or stand close to objects. It’s important to have vision screenings throughout childhood to detect amblyopia early.”
Your child’s pediatrician should be performing age-appropriate screenings during wellness checks. Children may also get vision screening through their schools.
How Do You Fix a Lazy Eye?
“Amblyopia is treated by addressing the underlying problem with consistent use of glasses (or surgery if needed) and by forcing the child to use their weaker eye,” Dr. Lim says. “This can be accomplished with either patching or eye drops to blur the ‘better-seeing’ eye.”
Patching takes persistence and positive encouragement from parents and treatment often takes months to achieve optimal results.
Can Lazy Eye Cause Vision Loss?
Amblyopia is the leading cause of vision loss among children. Once the visual development is complete, usually around 7 or 8 years of age, the brain does not respond as well to treatments.
“There is evidence that younger teenagers can have some improvement in vision with treatment, but the earlier the treatment, the better the success,” Dr. Lim says. “If amblyopia isn’t treated in a timely fashion, the vision in the affected eye will be permanently decreased.”
Dr. Lim also explains that children with amblyopia should always wear protective glasses when participating in sports or other activities. “Kids have years of life ahead of them and we want to make sure that we keep that good eye safe from accidents,” she says.
Can Adults Have Lazy Eye?
Adults often do not realize they have amblyopia and may receive a late diagnosis. They may just know that they have a “bad eye.” Teenagers or adults with amblyopia should not have any worsening of vision with time due to amblyopia. As long as the good eye sees well and stays healthy, they should still be able to live a normal life. As mentioned earlier, it is important to wear safety glasses and sports goggles to protect the good eye.
Is it Possible for Lazy Eye to Correct Itself?
There is no “quick fix” to amblyopia and no surgery to stimulate the brain. Surgery is helpful if the cause of amblyopia is an eye misalignment or a physical blockage, such as a cataract or droopy eyelid. Currently, there is no scientific evidence to support the use of vision therapy for amblyopia.
“Not every eye with amblyopia will achieve 20/20 vision following treatment, but the goal is to get the best possible vision in each eye,” Dr. Lim says.
How Are Patches Used for Lazy Eye Correction?
“It’s important that if patching is prescribed, to use a sticky Band-Aid-style patch,” Dr. Lim explains. “Children with glasses can also use cloth patches that slip over their frames, but the black pirate patch that straps around the head is not appropriate. This makes it easy to peek around them, making the treatment ineffective.”
It is important to monitor your child while they are patching to make sure that the patch is completely covering the better eye.
According to Dr. Lim, “Parents play a HUGE role in the successful treatment of amblyopia. Kids respond well to positive reinforcement — doing things like a sticker chart or awarding small treats if they do a good job is rewarding and allows them to have some involvement and fun in their care. There’s no specific activity to do while patching, as long as your child is awake with their eyes open, they will be processing vision through their amblyopic eye. Kids may be more cooperative with patching doing certain activities such as playing certain games, coloring, or watching their favorite videos. Along the way we will regularly monitor your child’s vision and adjust treatments as appropriate.”