While your child may love the eye idea of wearing an eye patch around Halloween — along with a sword and a swashbuckling hat, they probably don’t like the idea of wearing one year-round for several hours a day. Eye patching is a common treatment for amblyopia, also called lazy eye, which is a condition where the eye and the brain don’t work together well.
With amblyopia, one eye gets stronger while the other one gets weaker. Because the strong eye tends to compensate for the weaker eye, kids and parents may not realize that something is wrong. That’s why it’s important for children to get regular vision screenings and eye exams.
At these checkups, your eye doctor can detect any abnormalities. Amblyopia is the number one cause of preventable permanent vision loss in children in the US. Fortunately, it’s simple to treat with eye patching therapy. By covering, or occluding, the strong eye, the brain must switch over to making the weaker eye work.
For eye patch therapy to work, your child must wear the patch several hours a day for months or even years, depending on the condition. For children, this can be a challenge. Here are some tips that can help your child adhere to a patching schedule.
Decide on patch-wearing hours
First, figure the time(s) you think would be best for your child to wear the patch. At school? At home? In the morning? In the evening? You can break up the time your child wears the patch if that makes creating a routine more manageable. Keep in mind that your child must be awake while wearing the patch.
Make a plan
Once you’ve figured out the time of the day that your child will most likely adhere to a patching routine, create a clear patch-time schedule, outlining the hours of the day your child will wear the patch. This leaves no room to argue or negotiate, making it easier for you to enforce the routine.
Set a timer
If your plan is for your child to wear the patch two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening, or four hours straight after school, set a timer, so it’s clear to everyone when the patch comes off.
Let your child decorate their patch with paint, stamps, stickers, or other materials. If the patch is more fun to look at, it may make wearing it a bit more fun.
Distract and reward
It takes about 10 to 15 minutes for the brain to switch over to the non-patched eye. Distract your child during this time with a toy or TV show. Schedule fun things for them to do, if possible, during their eye patch wearing time, such as a visit to the playground or park.
To reinforce the patching routine, offer a reward such as a sticker or a star for every day they stick to the schedule.
For more information on amblyopia and how to get your child to wear an eye patch, and keep it on, call ABC Children’s Pediatric Ophthalmology & Strabismus, which has locations in Phoenix and Mesa, Arizona. You can also send a message to the team here on the website.