At the time of birth, all children have very poor vision. But as an infant grows and develops, they learn how to see (just as they learn to control their arms and hands, or learn to walk and talk).
Amblyopia, also known as “lazy eye”, is a visual condition in which an eye fails to learn to see as well as it should, even with prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses. Because amblyopia is a condition that begins during infancy and early childhood, it often goes undetected until the child is older.
In some cases of amblyopia, reduced visual acuity can occur in both eyes. But usually, only one eye is affected. If lazy eye is detected early in life and promptly treated, reduced vision can be avoided. But if left untreated, lazy eye can cause severe visual disability in the affected eye, including legal blindness.
What Causes Amblyopia?
One common cause of amblyopia is strabismus (eye turn). To avoid double vision caused by poorly aligned eyes, the brain ignores the visual input from the misaligned eye, and doesn’t learn to see properly with that eye (the “lazy eye”). This type of amblyopia is called strabismic amblyopia. If you notice that your baby or child has “crossed eyes,” or one eye seems to “wander” out, schedule an appointment with Frontier Eye Care immediately.
Another cause of amblyopia is a large difference is refractive error (nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism) in one eye compared to the other, despite perfect eye alignment. If your young child cries or becomes irritated when you cover one eye, this may suggest that the eye you have covered is the “good” eye, and that the uncovered eye is amblyopic, causing blurred vision. In such cases, the brain “tunes out” the blurry vision from the worse eye, causing amblyopia in that eye from disuse. This type of amblyopia is called refractive amblyopia (or anisometropic amblyopia).
The best time to detect and treat amblyopia is when a child is very young. Frontier Eye Care offers free screenings for infants between 6 and 12 months old. We’ll be glad to check your child’s eye alignment and refractive status to make sure then don’t have any “amblyogenic factors” that can lead to amblyopia. But amblyopia can also be treated when a child is older, so it’s never too late to have them checked.
Treatment of Amblyopia
In some cases, normal vision can be achieved simply by fully correcting the refractive errors in both eyes with glasses or contact lenses. Usually, however, at least some patching of the “good” eye is needed to encourage the brain to pay attention to the amblyopic eye and enable vision development to occur in that eye.
Patching may be required for several hours each day and may continue for weeks or months. If your child refuses to wear the patch, we have other treatment options such as eye drops or special contact lenses.
Treatment of strabismic amblyopia sometimes involves surgery to straighten the eyes, followed by eye patching and often some form of vision therapy to help both eyes work together equally as a team. Although Frontier Eye Care does not perform eye surgery or vision therapy, we will refer your child to the best qualified teams of eye surgeons and specialists.
Amblyopia will not go away on its own, and untreated lazy eye can lead to permanent vision problems and poor depth perception. If your child’s “good eye” ever develops disease or is injured, he or she will have to depend on the poor vision of the amblyopic eye, so it is best to treat amblyopia early on.
If you suspect your child may have amblyopia, or if your child has never had an eye exam, please call Frontier Eye Care to schedule an appointment at (307) 472-2020. We love working with kids, and strive to make our pediatric exams fun and enjoyable for them.