Detecting, Preventing, and Treating Amblyopia

What is Amblyopia and What Causes This Condition?

Amblyopia is more commonly referred to as “lazy eye.” Both eyes do not work together, and either one or both eyes appear to be lazy and turn inward or outward. If an eye turns inward, the condition is called “esotopia.” When the eye turns outward it is referred to as “exotropia.”

Sometimes vision in one eye is different from the other. Sometimes one eye is nearsighted or farsighted, or there could be a cataract or astigmatism. This condition causes the better eye to do all the work. The brain naturally ignores insufficient sight in the bad eye. The deficient eye becomes lazy, and as the better eye takes over, vision in the lazy eye decreases if the condition isn’t recognized and treated.

Who is at Risk for Developing Amblyopia?

Babies often have crossed eyes because their vision is still in the process of development. The condition of both eyes crossing inward is called “strabismus.” Babies born prematurely or those who were underweight at birth are more likely to have strabismus. This condition is quite common, and usually there is no cause for concern. Strabismus in babies usually corrects itself.

Children who are younger than age nine are most commonly affected by amblyopia. According to the American Optometric Association, between two and 4 percent of children are afflicted with this condition. The onset of amblyopia rarely occurs in adulthood.

Symptoms of Amblyopia

Eyesight problems in young children often go unnoticed, but if a child has amblyopia there are indications to look for. Kids with amblyopia often turn their heads to one side when looking at books, television programs, and computer screens. They also tend to move in closer in an attempt to see things clearly. This is true even for kids who are extremely farsighted. Although they are farsighted, they move closer to objects in a futile attempt to bring them into focus. Also, children with amblyopia sometimes appear to have crossed eyes. They might be more clumsy because of a lack of good depth perception, and they tend to bump into things.

Correcting Amblyopia

The eyes of young children can be compared to gelatinlike material. Their eyes can be shaped, changed, and improved by using glasses and eye patches. This is because until the age of about 10, vision is still in the process of growth and development. The eyes are still moldable, and sight can be corrected. If amblyopia is not recognized and treated before this age, poor eyesight becomes permanent.

After amblyopia has been diagnosed by an optometrist, a regimen of vision therapy may be prescribed. Eye patches are often used to improve vision and muscle strength in the lazy eye. The better eye is covered with a patch for a prescribed amount of time each day. This forces the lazy eye to have to work, therefore strengthening it over time.

Corrective lenses or glasses are often prescribed. Wearing glasses or corrective lenses often helps the deficient eye to line up properly and begin working again. Upon removal of corrective lenses or glasses, the deficient eye goes back out of alignment. This is why it’s important to make sure a child with amblyopia wears his or her glasses as prescribed.

Preventing Amblyopia

Amblyopia is a preventable condition. The American Optometric Association recommends having the eyes checked at six months of age, three years of age, and before beginning kindergarten. Early detection is the key to preventing this debilitating condition.

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