Amblyopia, commonly referred to as “lazy eye,” is the most common cause of visual impairment among children. Amblyopia affects 2 to 3 out of every 100 children.1
But the good news is that amblyopia is preventable or treatable if identified early. That’s why the doctors at Allred Family Eye Care are big advocates for starting eye exams at an early age. We recommend a child’s first eye exam between 6 to 12 months of age.2
Amblyopia is the medical term which refers to the vision of one or both eyes being weak or poorly developed, so that even with glasses or contacts the eye/s are not capable of seeing “20/20.” The decreased vision is the result of a poor connection between the eye and the brain. Although the eye appears normal, it is not functioning normally. Amblyopia occurs most often unilaterally, or in one eye, but can sometimes affect the visual function in both eyes.
Types of Amblyopia
There are 3 different types of amblyopia: strabismic, deprivation, and refractive amblyopia.
Developed from eyes that are not straight, strabismic amblyopia is used to describe when the brain begins to ignore the eye that is not straight. If one eye turns in, out, up, or down consistently, especially from an early age, the vision in that eye will not fully develop.
Deprivation Amblyopia is caused by cataracts or a similar condition depriving children’s eyes of visual experience. If not treated early, this condition can prevent children from ever learning to see properly and can affect both eyes.
This specific type of amblyopia is caused when there is a large or unequal amount of refractive error (near-sighted, far-sighted, astigmatism) within the eyes. The brain begins to favor the eye that has a lesser need for vision correction. This form of amblyopia is difficult to find as the child may see just fine from the stronger eye and may never notice that something is wrong. This condition is often not found unless the child has an eye exam. It is possible for refractive amblyopia to affect both eyes. This highlights the importance of regular eye exams for children.
Signs of Amblyopia & Diagnosis
Look for these common signs or symptoms of amblyopia.
An eye that wanders
Eyes appear to not work together
Poor depth perception
A family history of lazy eye or amblyopia
These signs and symptoms may also indicate other problems, not just amblyopia. So, it is important to have your child’s vision tested by an experienced pediatric optometrist.
But remember that amblyopia most often develops with absolutely no signs, and a child may not notice or report any symptoms because he or she sees well from the stronger eye.
We have much better results in treating the amblyopia if it is detected early (before age 8), or better yet prevented during the infant or toddler years when vision is developing. But recent research confirms that amblyopia can also be treated for older children and adults. This is why it is so important for all children to have their vision tested.
Treatment options vary depending on the cause and significance of amblyopia affecting your child’s vision. Our optometrist may recommend:
Prescription Lenses, such as glasses or contacts are often the first step and can correct refractive errors that result in lazy eye.
Eye Patches. In order to prevent the brain from ignoring the weaker eye, your child may be required to wear an eye patch over the stronger eye for part of the day.
Bangerter Filter. Much like an eye patch, a bangerter filter works by blurring the vision in the stronger eye to stimulate the weaker one.
Eyedrops. A medication called atropine can temporarily blur vision in the stronger eye to encourage stimulation of the weaker one, and is particularly useful for younger children.
Surgery. In some cases, your child may require surgery if their eyes cross or wander apart. The surgery does not correct the amblyopia, but will straighten the eyes to allow the amblyopia to be more effectively treated.
Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late
Some forms of amblyopia may cause permanent damage to your child’s vision. As such, we strongly encourage scheduling an eye examination3 with us today!