Vision develops during the first two years of life and continues more slowly until about age nine. Since each eye sends a slightly different image to the brain, our eyes and brain have to learn how to work together so the stereo images are processed correctly into one clear image.
If there is a problem with vision in one eye (for example, severe nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism), this learning process is disrupted. The brain stops developing a normal vision for that eye and concentrates only on the images coming from the unaffected eye. A defect in the lens, such as a cataract, or a defect in the cornea can also cause amblyopia.
A child with amblyopia may not even realize that he or she is using only one eye. Ignoring the image from the weak eye is the brain's unconscious response, not the child's decision. Despite the nickname of "lazy eye", an eye with amblyopia is not actually lazy but is being ignored by the brain.
Amblyopia affects one child in forty. Treatment during early childhood (up to about age seven to nine years) can usually reverse amblyopia. Treatment after childhood is usually less helpful but may improve vision in some cases. A child with amblyopia who does not get treatment may have poor vision for the rest of his life.
Early treatment for amblyopia is vital. Without it, the child may never develop normal vision in the affected eye.
Glasses can be used to correct vision in the impaired eye. Eye patches and eye drops are also effective.
An eye patch is the most common way to treat children with amblyopia. Most children dislike having to cover the"good eye", but the ultimate goal should be kept in mind: good vision that can last a lifetime.
Parents can help the child deal with patching by taking it gradually, showing understanding and not making it a punishment. Any visually stimulating activity that your child enjoys will help to improve his eyesight. Video games wearing a patch yield the most visual improvement in the least amount of time.
Some children can wear a patch for only a few weeks and gain permanent improvement while others may need to use the patch for longer periods, up to months or even years.
Sometimes eye drops are used alone or in combination with patching to blur vision in the ‘good eye’ so that vision in the amblyopic eye can improve.
There are three signs that your child may be amblyopic:
If you suspect that your child may be amblyopic, please contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our pediatric specialists.