Amblyopia, also known as lazy eye, is a vision development disorder where one eye fails to achieve normal visual acuity or clarity, even with the help of prescription glasses or contact lenses.
This condition often develops during infancy and early childhood. It generally only affects one eye but can occur in both. If detected early, reduced vision or vision loss can be avoided.
What is Amblyopia?
Despite the common name, amblyopia is not a lazy eye. Amblyopia is a developmental vision condition where there is significantly reduced vision in one eye compared to the other. This condition affects the brain’s ability to use both eyes together as a team, causing the brain to actively ignore the information coming from the weaker or amblyopic eye.
Amblyopia can lead to poor visual acuity, poor depth perception, and difficulty focusing your eyes with daily tasks such as reading or driving.
Amblyopia prevents a patient from using both eyes properly and often occurs due to one of three reasons:
- Strabismus – The most common cause of amblyopia is strabismus or a misalignment of the eye. To prevent symptoms such as double vision caused by strabismus, the brain begins to ignore the information gathered from the weaker eye. This type is known as strabismic amblyopia. If you notice your child has crossed eyes or an apparent misalignment, schedule an appointment with a pediatric eye doctor for a confirmed diagnosis.
- Unequal refractive errors – Amblyopia can also be caused by an unequal refractive error between the two eyes despite proper alignment. One eye may have a significant difference in nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism that the other eye does not. This type of amblyopia is known as refractive amblyopia.
- Vision obstruction – This type of amblyopia known as deprivation amblyopia, occurs when vision is obstructed or hindered during development. This can be the result of congenital cataracts or droopy eyelids that may require surgery for treatment.
Amblyopia is typically associated with vision development and as such often occurs during infancy or early childhood. The primary symptom of amblyopia is a loss of vision in one eye, which can be difficult to spot in young children. For this reason, it is important that children have an eye exam at the age of 6 months, 3 years old, and before starting school. This allows your doctor to ensure their vision is developing properly and that both eyes are working together as a team.
Since the condition commonly affects only one eye, children may consistently bump into objects on the affected side, favor one side more than the other, and fail to notice objects on the weaker side.
In some cases, such as strabismic amblyopia, a misalignment of the eyes will be present. However, symptoms may not always be obvious.
Amblyopia is treatable at any age. When treated early in children, the success rate may be higher at preventing the condition from reoccurring compared to those who may have had the condition long term.
Treatment will focus on strengthening the amblyopic eye and retraining the brain to use both eyes to see clearly. Treatment options will vary on the condition type.
For refractive amblyopia, binocular vision can be achieved by correcting the refractive errors in both eyes with prescription glasses or contacts.
Patching the “good” eye can also help to force the brain to use the information gathered from the amblyopic eye and stimulate proper vision development. You may need to wear the patch several hours a day for a long period before the brain begins to use the eye.
Treatment for strabismic amblyopia may require surgery to align the eye before other treatment options can be considered. After surgery, an eye patch and vision therapy can help the eyes to work together.
Vision therapy helps to better eye focusing, eye tracking, binocular vision, and spatial skills that will help stimulate neural changes beneficial to vision development.
Atropine eye drops can also be placed into the “good” eye which will cause vision to blur and force the brain to rely on the amblyopic eye without the use of a patch.
It is important to note that even for older children or adults who struggle with amblyopia, treatment is important in preventing permanent vision loss or blindness. For more information on amblyopia and our treatment options, please contact St. Lucy’s Vision Center today.