Eye (Amblyopia) – What is it?

Lazy Eye, or Amblyopia as it’s scientifically known, is not an eye disease but rather an eye condition in which the brain doesn’t fully recognize vision through the amblyopic eye. Lazy or amblyopic eyes are not treatable with the use of glasses or contacts. Amblyopia is almost always specific to one eye, although a lazy eye can reduce vision in both eyes. People who have a lazy eye can experience:

  • A “wandering” eye
  • Eyes that do not work together cohesively
  • Reduced depth perception
  • Reduced vision
  • Squinting or closing of one eye

What Causes Lazy Eye or Amblyopia?

Amblyopia, or lazy eye as it is more commonly known, is a neurological disorder in which the visual processing portion of the brain doesn’t operate properly. It’s important to have your children undergo a comprehensive eye exam early, as a majority of the time a lazy eye develops before reaching the age of 7. The most critical stage of visual development is typically between birth and 6 years of age. Anything blocking clear vision during this period can in turn cause a person to develop a lazy eye. Development of a lazy eye can occur when a child has decreased vision in one eye, leading the child to more heavily rely on vision from the clear eye. Without treatment, a child’s heavy dependence on one eye can cause the brain to eventually ignore images and visual stimuli of the weaker eye, and possibly permanently damage a child’s vision.

Generally, a lazy eye is developed when one eye suffers from refractive errors like nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism. Variance in vision between eyes is called anisometropia. Gone untreated, refractive errors can result in amblyopia, in which a child’s vision grows progressively worse.

Lazy eye can also develop as a result of strabismus, or when your child’s eyes don’t line up like they properly should. Strabismus stops the eyes from working together (binocular vision) and can cause double or fuzzy vision, causing the child to develop a lazy eye.

Eye diseases such as cataracts, as well as eye trauma causing a physical blockage of one eye can cause a child to rely more heavily on the other, which can eventually lead to the development of a lazy eye.

Lazy Eye or Amblyopia Diagnosis

Your optometrist can diagnose situations in which your child has a likelihood of developing a lazy eye. During the course of an eye exam refractive testing allows your eye doctor to test your child’s eyes for eye conditions such as nearsightedness or astigmatism in which one eye may have better vision than the other. Your eye doctor can examine your child for strabismus, using a series of tests to determine both eyes’ ability to fixate on an object. GDx imaging and fundus photography can help your optometrist determine if your child has any eye diseases or conditions that would obstruct light from passing through your child’s eye properly.

Evidence has shown genetics play a role, and amblyopia can be inherited as well. If you or someone in your family has a lazy eye, it’s even more important to have your children’s eyes tested early.

Treatment of a Lazy Eye (Amblyopia)

Infants, toddlers, and children should all undergo frequent eye exams as early testing and detection holds the best chances for successful treatment of a lazy eye. Amblyopia can’t be treated with the prescription of glasses or contacts as it’s a neurological disorder, and therefore the vision problem is actually occurring within the brain.

If your eye doctor suspects your child may have, or be at risk for developing a lazy eye, there are treatments and exercises available. Depending on the cause of your child’s amblyopia, your optometrist may recommend:

Atropine Eye Drops

In some cases, atropine eye drops can be used in your child’s stronger eye a couple of times a day. Atropine drops help to blur the vision in the strong eye, encouraging the brain’s use of the weaker eye.

Prescription Glasses or Contact Lenses

Glasses or contacts may be used if your child suffers from a refractive error of the eye such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism, that could ultimately lead to the development of a lazy eye.

Eye Patch

Your eye doctor may have your child wear an eye patch over their stronger eye at points during the day. The eye patch helps stimulate your child’s use of the weaker eye.

Bangerter Occlusion

A filter for the lens of your child’s strong eye, blurring the strong eye’s vision and encouraging use of the weaker eye, similar to an eye patch.

Corrective Eye Surgery

If your child suffers from strabismus, your eye doctor may recommend corrective eye surgery to repair your child’s eye muscles. In cases of physical obstruction like cataracts, eye surgery might also be recommended to improve your child’s weaker eye’s vision.

While treatment can prove beneficial for people of all ages, most success is seen when lazy eye treatment is conducted during formative years (before the age of 7). Schedule an appointment for your child at our eye care clinic today, as earlier detection and treatment has the best chance of preserving your child’s visual clarity.