Children and Amblyopia

By: Anthony Tangeman

Amblyopia, or “lazy eye,” is a common vision condition. Among children, it is more common than every other child vision problem combined and sometimes can be difficult to see. If left undetected and unattended it may cause permanent loss of vision. Because of this, it is important to understand what amblyopia is, what it does, and how it can be corrected.

A person has amblyopia when there is a problem with the eyes that causes one to be dominant over the other. The brain will favor the dominant eye, either learning to cope with one eye or even turning off the weaker eye. In both cases quality of vision is greatly reduced. Amblyopia is almost always unilateral, meaning that it affects one eye, but it can also be bilateral. There are different types of amblyopia depending on what type of problem the eyes have. They are as follows:

Strabismic amblyopia – Occurs when the orientation of the eyes are not correct. Both eyes become unable to focus on the same object. The brain senses this and turns off the problematic eye, meaning that the brain ignores any visual input that would be sent out. Strabismic amblyopia is relatively easy to spot in children compared to the other forms of amblyopia.

Deprivation amblyopia – Occurs when a child has a vision condition, such as cataracts, which impairs vision in one eye. The brain will adapt and learn to see the world with cloudy vision. This is problematic as corrective prescription eyeglasses will not improve vision as the brain has become accustomed to seeing blurry images.

Refractive amblyopia – Occurs when there is a significant difference in the quality of vision between the eyes. Similar to strabismic amblyopia, the brain will shut off the weaker eye, causing a loss in vision.

The best defense against amblyopia is early awareness and treatment. The sooner you know your child has amblyopia, the better chances you have at protecting their vision. Deprivation and refractive amblyopia are much more difficult to see in children. Something that you can try to test for these types of amblyopia are to cover one of your child’s eyes at a time and to see how they react. If they show signs of discomfort when you do this, it is possible they have amblyopia.

Treatment varies slightly across all types of amblyopia. In general, your child will be prescribed a patch to wear over the dominant eye. This gives the weaker eye the opportunity to grow stronger. Strabismic and deprivation amblyopia additionally require surgery after eye-patching in order to fix eye orientation or other vision conditions respectively.

Sometimes eye drops will be prescribed instead of an eye patch to treat amblyopia. These are usually atropine drops which dilate the eye. The purpose is the same as the patch, to allow the weaker eye to grow stronger. The eye drops essentially cause blurry vision in the eye they are applied to. It is important to note that these eye drops come with possible side effects, including itching, burning, and stinging of the eye. It is important to monitor your children if they are being prescribed atropine drops.

When you suspect that your child has amblyopia, you should have their eyes examined as soon as possible. It is recommended that children have their first eye examination at the age of 6 months. Most of them have regularly scheduled eye exams around 6 years of age. As a parent it is crucial to ensure that your child has the healthiest vision they can. Always be on the lookout for signs of vision problems, and be sure to seek help and advice if you have any concerns.

Please contact GoSmartEyewear if you have any questions about your child’s vision.