Also known as ‘lazy eye’, amblyopia is an early childhood condition characterized by the failure of a child’s eyesight in one eye to develop as it should. The problem mostly affects one eye, but it can occur in both.
With amblyopia the brain tends to focus on one eye more than the other, essentially ignoring the lazy eye. If the lazy eye is not properly stimulated, the visual brain cells can fail to mature normally.
Causes of Amblyopia
Amblyopia can be caused by anything that interferes with clear vision in either of the eyes during the critical period which is from birth to the age of 8.
The possible causes of amblyopia include:
- Strabismus: This is imbalance of the muscles which position the eye and cause the eyes to turn out or cross. It makes it difficult for both eyes to track objects simultaneously.
- Anisometropic amblyopia: This is a refractive error in which the light is not correctly focused as it travels through the lens of the eye. It results in blurred vision as the surface of the lens or cornea is uneven. It causes a child to be far-sighted or near-sighted in one eye.
- Stimulus Deprivation amblyopia: This is when one eye is weaker than the other, preventing it to see.
Symptoms of Amblyopia
Symptoms of amblyopia include:
- Double vision
- Blurred vision
- Eyes fail to appear to work together
- Poor depth perception
- An eye turn, either outward, inward, upward, or downward.
Diagnosis of Amblyopia
Diagnosing amblyopia involves an ophthalmologist carrying out an eye exam to check for the eye health, vision between the eyes, and a wandering eye. During the eye exam, eye drops are usually used to dilate the eyes and they can cause blurred vision that lasts for several hours.
The type of test vision does depend on the child’s stage of development and age.
- For preverbal children, a lighted magnifying device is used to detect cataracts. Other tests can be done to assess the infant’s or toddler’s ability to follow a moving object and fix his/her gaze.
- For children aged 3 years and older, tests using letters and pictures are used to assess the child’s vision. One eye is usually covered as the other is tested and vice versa.
Treatment for Amblyopia
Treatment for amblyopia should be done as soon as possible in childhood when the connections between the eye and the brain are forming. Treatment options depend on the cause of the amblyopia and how it is affecting a child’s vision.
The treatment options include:
- Eye patch: It stimulates the lazy eye to work on its own. The eye patch is worn over the eye with better vision for about two to six hours per day.
- Corrective eyewear: Amblyopia caused by nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism can be corrected using contact lenses or glasses.
- Eye drops: This can temporarily blur vision in the stronger eye, encouraging the child to use the weaker eye.
- Bangerter filter: The filter is placed on the lens of the eyeglass of the stronger eye and blurs it, thus stimulating the stronger eye.
- Surgery: This may be needed if the child has cataracts or droopy eyelids that cause deprivation amblyopia. It is also used to straighten the eyes in conjunction with other treatments.
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