Amblyopia (am-blee-OH-pee-uh) is one of the most common vision problems in children affecting 3-6% of the population. It is often referred to as having a “lazy” eye because of the reduced vision in one eye, but here at Speckles we prefer to call it the “curious eye”.
This condition begins in infancy and early childhood and can worsen over time if left untreated, sometimes causing permanent loss of vision. If you’re reading this, you may think that a child you care for has Amblyopia or they may have already been diagnosed with it. Either way, it’s a good time for us to get you up to speed on what it all means, so that you can explain it to your child in a fun and simple way.
So...what Is Amblyopia?
Amblyopia is a vision development disorder where one or both eyes do not achieve clear vision (acuity in medical spiel). This is typically for reasons not related to an eye health problem, and it cannot be improved with prescription glasses or contact lenses alone. In most cases, it impacts a single eye.
With amblyopia, vision loss happens because the brain favours the eye with stronger vision and basically ignores images from the eye with poor vision. Therefore the “curious eye” and the brain are unable to develop a strong and reliable connection, resulting in underdevelopment of the visual pathway.
Over time the brain can completely reject information provided by the weaker eye and prevent connections to that eye from developing. This can lead to permanent loss of vision and result in poor depth perception in that eye.
What are the clues that a child might have the condition?
Given Amblyopia usually only occurs in one eye, many parents and children may be unaware of the condition and it can go undetected. A clue that your child may have Amblyopia is if he or she cries or fusses when you cover one eye. You might also notice that your child has difficulty catching and throwing objects, squinting or shutting an eye, head turn or tilt, and general clumsiness
Amblyopia can be easily identified in younger children by a visit to the optometrist. Though many parents wait until their children are older to address their vision, a trip to the eye doctor is just as important for your little ones every year as it is for you. If you have any concerns about your child’s vision, it’s best to get their eyes tested by an optometrist as soon as possible.
How can we treat it?
Amblyopia is most successfully treated during infancy while the brain is still developing, so it’s important to start treatment as soon as possible. Treating the original cause of Amblyopia first is crucial, which may require prescription glasses to be worn, or eye surgery to be performed if strabismus, cataract or droopy eyelid was the cause (see our blog on causes here).
To treat Amblyopia, most doctors recommend the use of patching or eye drops. This is known as occlusion therapy, where the stronger eye is “penalised” with the use of patches or eye drops, to give the “curious eye” a competitive advantage and allow the nerve connections from the eye to the brain (visual pathway), to re-grow and therefore improve the eye’s vision.
In mild cases, eye drops are used in the eye with better vision to enlarge the pupil and make the vision blurry. Forcing the brain to use the vision received from the “curious eye”. This treatment method is often used as a last resort as it is more invasive and like all medications can cause side effects, especially sensitivity to light due to the enlarged pupil.
“Patching” is a less invasive treatment that involves using a patch to cover the eye with better vision. This will block all vision and light, forcing the brain to focus on the vision received by the “curious eye”. A patch is usually worn for 2-6 hours per day depending on the condition and needs of your child.
Where to from here?
If you’ve already been to your optometrist you should have some clear instructions for next steps. You may need to see an Ophthalmologist (here are some good questions to ask) or you may already have your treatment plan, in which case you may want to check out how to explain Amblyopia and patching to your child. Here at Speckles, we’re here to support you every step of the way, so if you have any questions just message us on Facebook or Instagram and our friendly team will be happy to help.