smiling boy with eye patch

Amblyopia: Diagnosing and Treating “Lazy Eye”

Have you heard of Amblyopia?  Maybe you have heard of “Lazy eye”.  Amblyopia (am-blē-΄ō-pē-ә) is sometimes called “lazy eye” which means the vision is poor in one eye, so it is something that needs to be diagnosed by an eye care professional.

The term “lazy eye” is often misused by the general population when describing an eye that drifts inward (toward the nose) or outward (toward the ear). The medical term for eye misalignment is strabismus. A person who suffers from a “lazy eye” actually has a condition known as amblyopia. Up to three percent of children are affected by amblyopia.

In a child with amblyopia visual information either fails to transmit or is poorly transmitted from the eye to the brain for a continuous period of time. The eye is a camera that sends a message to the brain and your brain tells you what you are seeing. Anything that interferes with the signal will cause loss of vision in an eye.

Although the most common cause is strabismus, a child can suffer from amblyopia because of nearsightedness (needing glasses to see distance) or farsightedness (needing glasses to see up close) without any evidence of “lazy eye”. Sometimes it can be caused by a difference in the prescription between the eyes. Other causes may be cataracts (clouding of the lens inside of the eye) and/or droopy eyelids. Untreated amblyopia may result in permanent vision loss that cannot be corrected later by glasses or surgery.

Types of amblyopia and treatment options

Strabismic: When the eyes are not straight. The treatment is covering the good eye to force the bad eye to work. Treatment could also include the need for surgery.

Refractive: When the focusing power of the two eyes is different. Treatment is a combination of glasses to equal focusing and patching the good eye.

Deprivation: Can be caused by an interruption of light rays that need to be focused by the eye to see. Treatment could mean the need for surgery to correct the problem; and patching before and/or after surgery.

It is important to stay compliant with the patching regimen your eye care provider prescribes because, as mentioned above, there are severe consequences associated with untreated amblyopia.

Problems associated with untreated amblyopia

  • Decreased vision in one or two eyes that cannot later be corrected by glasses
  • Difficulty in school with reading
  • Change in behavior/depression
  • Legal blindness

If you are a resident of Ohio, learn more about the Ohio Amblyope Registry, which provides free treatment supplies (eye patches), educational information and support to any child (under the age of 18) diagnosed with amblyopia.

Julie Racine, PhD
Julie Racine, Ph.D received her doctorate from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. She has been with Nationwide Children’s Hospital since 2011. Her clinical and research interests are in ophthalmology and human/animal clinical visual electrophysiology.

2 thoughts on “Amblyopia: Diagnosing and Treating “Lazy Eye”

    1. Julie Racine on said:

      Nancy, research shows that patching (or using atropine) in the strong eye for the ‘weak’ eye to work will get better result when treated before the teenage years. However, I strongly suggest you to discuss your concern with your eye care provider to determine if amblyopia treatment would be beneficial in you case.

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