Understanding the Three Causes of Amblyopia

Understanding the Three Causes of Amblyopia

Commonly called “lazy eye,” amblyopia is the leading cause of vision loss among children, affecting more than 4 in 100 kids worldwide. Amblyopia typically occurs early in childhood, when your child’s vision skills are still developing. 

Early treatment is the key to improving your child’s vision and preventing more serious vision problems as they get older.

At ABC Children’s Eye Specialists, our pediatric ophthalmologists use advanced screening techniques to diagnose amblyopia as early as possible, tailoring treatment to each child’s needs. Here’s what they want you to know about amblyopia and its three primary causes.

The basics of amblyopia

When you “see,” your eyes send data to your brain, which interprets that data to form images. If one eye isn’t seeing as well as the other, your brain learns to ignore the data from that eye. 

Over time, nerve pathways between that eye and the brain are mostly abandoned, and vision in the affected eye deteriorates. Treating amblyopia early helps restore normal vision to both eyes.

For many children, amblyopia treatment consists of temporarily blocking vision in the dominant eye — the one that sees more clearly — so nerve connections between the brain and the affected eye gain strength. 

Some treatments use a patch or filter to cover the dominant eye for a set period of time each day, while other treatments use eye drops to achieve the same effect.

Three causes of amblyopia

Amblyopia can be divided into three types, based on what causes the vision disorder.

Strabismic amblyopia

Strabismus is an eye condition where the two eyes don’t “line up” in the same direction. While one eye is properly aligned, the other eye may drift up, down, or to one side. 

This type of amblyopia happens when the brain decides to ignore the “drifting” eye, using only the information from the stable eye. Vision decreases in the “ignored” eye, resulting in amblyopia.

Refractive amblyopia

Considered the most common type of amblyopia, refractive amblyopia is caused by uncorrected vision problems, like farsightedness, nearsightedness, or astigmatism

This type of amblyopia typically happens when one eye sees better than the other or when each eye has a different type of vision problem. 

Refractive amblyopia may not be noticeable to parents or pediatricians, because the eyes can still appear perfectly aligned. Often, refractive amblyopia goes undiagnosed until the child has a professional eye exam. One or both eyes may be affected.

Deprivation amblyopia

This is the least common type of amblyopia, developing when vision in one eye is obstructed or blocked. 

Cataracts, corneal problems, and drooping eyelids are possible causes of vision obstruction that limit vision in one eye, resulting in the other eye becoming dominant and “stronger.” 

Deprivation amblyopia typically affects one eye, but in some kids, both eyes can be affected.

The critical importance of pediatric eye exams

Most children have vision screenings at school or during routine pediatrician visits — and many parents mistakenly believe those screenings are all their child needs to enjoy clear vision and healthy eyes. But vision screenings do not take the place of professional pediatric eye exams.

Basic vision screenings are very limited, looking only for signs of relatively common vision issues, including screenings that have a direct impact on learning. 

These screenings perform an important role — but your child still needs routine pediatric eye exams to spot more complex vision issues, including amblyopia.

Pediatric eye exams can spot vision issues in their earliest stages, before vision loss or other problems occur. 

The American Optometric Association recommends an initial baseline screening before your child turns a year old, with another comprehensive exam when they’re 3-5 years of age and annual exams throughout childhood.

Schedule your child’s eye exam

Good vision and healthy eyes depend on regular pediatric eye exams to identify vision problems in their earliest stages. To learn how our team can help your child enjoy their best vision, book an appointment online or over the phone at our office in Phoenix or Mesa, Arizona, today.

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