One of the most common eye disorders in children is amblyopia, sometimes known as “lazy eye.” Amblyopia occurs in an eye or rarely both eyes that did not develop normal vision during early childhood. This relatively common condition is best corrected during infancy or early childhood. The visual system is fully developed after a child reaches approximately nine years age, and therefore, usually cannot be treated successfully at an older age.
The most common causes of amblyopia are strabismus, refractive error and obstruction of the vision.
Strabismus is a misalignment of the eyes such as crossed eyes, and is the most common cause of amblyopia. The crossed eye “turns off” in the brain, and only the uncrossed eye is used and becomes “stronger.”
Refractive error, such as nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism, causes amblyopia because the blurry, unfocused image prevents normal vision development. This type of amblyopia can be very difficult to detect, since the eyes appear normal even though one eye or rarely both eyes have poor vision.
Cataracts and other eye diseases causing obstruction or cloudiness of the vision can lead to amblyopia. Any disorder that prevents a clear image in the eye is a potential cause of amblyopia. The eye with the abnormal image “turns off” in the brain and the child will depend on the normal eye.
Amblyopia is treated by making the child use the weaker eye and improving the images that the eyes receive. Glasses may be prescribed if there is significant refractive error. Patching the better seeing eye may be recommended. Sometimes after vision has improved in the weaker eye, patching may still be recommended to maintain the improvement. Glasses will also be continued. With cataracts or other eye disease that cause cloudiness of vision, other treatments may be recommended as well. The role of the parent is vital to ensure that the treatment is effective.