About two or three percent of children have amblyopia, or “lazy eye.” Left untreated, amblyopia can cause poor vision or blindness in the underused eye. Most people have seen the classic signs of lazy eye, where one eye seems to wander or point off in the wrong direction, but most cases of amblyopia are not visible. Amblyopia is the most common cause of vision problems in people under 45 years old.
Amblyopia can occur anytime in life, but usually starts during childhood and must be treated before the child is seven or eight years old, when vision is fully developed. Children should have vision tests early in life to prevent permanent vision loss.
Everyone has a dominant and a non-dominant eye. When there is a large discrepancy in the images sent to the brain from each eye, the brain will only use the best image and the eye which produces the poorer image will continue to weaken.
- Strabismus or misaligned eyes. When your eyes do not point at the same target your brain ignores one of the images to prevent double vision. Strabismus in itself is often mistaken for amblyopia, by observers. It can cause amblyopia, but they are not the same condition.
- Unequal refractive error. If one eye produces a blurry image due to nearsightedness farsightedness or astigmatism, the brain will choose the clearer image and ignore the fuzzy one.
- Trauma. An injury or disease can cause loss of vision in just one eye, causing your brain to adjust to using the healthy eye.
- Cataracts. Cataracts sometimes affect one eye more than the other and your brain will choose the best image.
There are many approaches to treating amblyopia. The goal is to encourage the brain to recognize and use the image from the poor eye, which will encourage development of and better vision in that eye. Treatment options include:
- Vision therapy – exercises which strengthen the weak eye and teach the brain to use both images together
- Patch – worn over the dominant eye, stimulating use of the weak eye
- Drops – blur the vision in the dominant eye so that the brain chooses the image from the weak eye
- Corrective lenses – glasses or contacts with a different prescription for each eye
- LASIK surgery – used to correct the poor eye and bring vision into balance, or if vision is poor in both eyes, both eyes can be corrected to an equal level of vision
Adults often prefer LASIK over corrective lenses or wearing a patch. LASIK is not appropriate for all children, but may be the best option for children who do not respond to other therapies. Because the eyes continue to develop and vision continues to change into young adulthood, surgery is not an appropriate solution for most vision problems in children, but when in children who have amblyopia, LASIK surgery can ensure that both eyes develop properly and save their vision.
If you or your child has amblyopia, talk to your eye doctor about amblyopia treatment today. The Eye Care Center of Northern Colorado has an extensive knowledge of eye disorders and diseases.