As the most common cause of visual impairment among young children, amblyopia affects up to 3% of infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and grade-schoolers in the United States. Also known as “lazy eye,” the condition occurs when one eye fails to work properly with the brain, resulting in reduced visual acuity in the affected eye.
It’s also accurate to describe amblyopia as a vision development disorder that occurs when the brain favors one eye by blocking or ignoring the images being sent from the other eye. When this process is allowed to persist, the affected eye is much less likely to develop normal, healthy vision.
Luckily, amblyopia is relatively easy to diagnose in a routine pediatric eye exam. Even better, when it’s caught early and treated promptly, it can almost always be corrected. Here’s what you should know.
Common causes of amblyopia
When one eye fails to work properly with the brain (or the brain favors one eye over the other), the affected eye cannot achieve normal visual acuity, even with prescription lenses.
Amblyopia is usually the result of early and ongoing interference with clear vision in one eye.
Strabismus, or the misalignment of one or both of your child’s eyes, is a common cause of amblyopia. It occurs when one eye drifts upward, downward, inward, or outward as the other eye focuses on an object.
A cataract (clouding of the lens) is another possible cause. Although cataracts are usually associated with age-related degenerative changes in the eye, congenital cataracts can be present from birth.
Amblyopia can also develop when one eye is more nearsighted, farsighted, or has a greater degree of astigmatism than the other eye. When one eye can’t focus as well as the other one, the brain tends to ignore the blurred images and concentrate on the clear ones.
Treatments for amblyopia
Treating amblyopia initially involves forcing your child to use the eye with weaker or blurrier vision. This is usually done in one of two ways:
With eye patching, your child wears an adhesive patch over the affected eye for several hours each day for a predetermined number of weeks or months. While it may be simple, patching therapy is a highly effective way to stimulate vision in your child’s weaker eye and help it build a better connection with their brain.
All forms of amblyopia treatment, including eye patching, tend to work best and be most successful when they’re implemented at an early age and are most effective before the age of eight.
If your child doesn’t want to wear a patch, prescription eye drops that contain a medication called atropine can help. A drop of atropine is administered to the stronger eye to temporarily blur its vision, so your child has to use their weaker eye, especially when focusing on close objects.
Research shows that a daily drop of atropine in the unaffected eye can work just as well as patching therapy. It’s important to note, however, that not all children are suitable candidates for atropine therapy.
Pediatric eye care you can trust
A comprehensive amblyopia treatment plan also addresses the underlying cause of amblyopia to ensure the condition won’t return. If your child’s disorder stems from a significant refractive error in one eye, for example, wearing the right corrective lenses — in addition to undergoing other therapies — is essential.
Likewise, if your child has severe strabismus that can’t be corrected with patching therapy, they may require eye surgery in addition to eye patching to ensure they develop normal, healthy vision in both eyes.
Remember, unless amblyopia is successfully treated in early childhood, it’s likely to persist well into adulthood. To find the right treatment solution for your child, call your nearest ABC Children’s Eye Specialists office in Phoenix or Mesa, Arizona, today.