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A lazy eye is medically known as amblyopia. It is a type of reduced vision that occurs in one eye. The condition is called a lazy eye because the stronger eye works best.
Amblyopia is the most common cause of visual impairment in children. The eye condition usually occurs between birth and seven years of age. Amblyopia is more frequent in small or premature babies. It is also more likely to develop in children with a family history of amblyopia.
It can be challenging to diagnose a lazy eye. Often, amblyopia is detected during a routine eye exam.
If left untreated, a lazy eye can result in permanent vision loss in the affected eye. If your child shows any symptoms or side effects of amblyopia, take them to an eye doctor. For example, the eyes may appear as if they don't ‘work together.’
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Amblyopia occurs when the eye develops abnormally in early childhood. The weak eye tends to wander inwards or outwards.
A lazy eye develops when there’s a breakdown in how the brain and the weak eye work together. The brain won’t recognize the sight from one eye. In time, the brain relies more and more on the strong eye. Simultaneously, the weak eye’s vision worsens.
In most cases, doctors don’t understand the direct cause of amblyopia. However, sometimes different vision problems may lead to amblyopia.
Usually, the brain uses nerve signals from both eyes to see. If an eye condition worsens the vision in one eye, the brain may try to work around it. The brain may switch off signals from the weaker eye, favoring the good eye.
Some eye conditions that can develop amblyopia include refractive errors, strabismus, and cataract eye problems.
If there are any vision problems causing amblyopia, an eye doctor may treat that first. The treatment options for amblyopia depend on several factors, such as how severe the condition is.
In children, cataracts may be removed during eye surgery to treat a lazy eye. This allows for better development of vision in the weak eye. Cataract surgery for young and older children is carried out under general anesthesia.
Cataract surgery usually takes one to two hours. Your child may stay in the hospital overnight so the staff can check their recovery. Patients must use eye drops afterward.
The operation changes the position of the lazy eye by either strengthening or weakening its eye muscles.
As a result, the lazy eye appears better aligned with the strong eye. Eye muscle surgery doesn’t improve the patient’s vision, but their eyes will look straighter. It also helps the eyes function better together.
Glasses can correct existing refractive errors in childrens’ eyes. Refractive errors include nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. In children with amblyopia, one eye is often more nearsighted or farsighted than the other.
By wearing eyeglasses, the other vision problem is treated. For some patients, wearing glasses is enough to fix amblyopia. However, many children may also need further treatment to treat an amblyopic eye effectively.
The treatment of amblyopia may include vision therapy techniques, such as occlusion therapy. Occlusion therapy for a lazy eye involves wearing an eye patch. The patch covers the better eye for several hours a day.
For children wearing glasses, the lens over the stronger eye can be covered. This treatment prompts the weaker eye to work harder.
Eye drops can be used temporarily to make it more difficult for the stronger eye to see correctly. This leads to the weaker eye working harder. Eye drops contain medication, like atropine.
Atropine temporarily relaxes the ciliary muscles in the good eye. This makes the lens of the eye unable to focus for several hours. Eye drops are used once a day after waking up in the morning. The effects last for several hours up to about two weeks.
If strabismus causes amblyopia, it is often treated with an eye patch. Sometimes glasses are required too. This is because many children with strabismus also have a refractive error.
In more severe cases, eye muscle surgery may be required.
A lazy eye can be treated at home with glasses, patching, or eye drops. However, in some cases, eye surgery may be necessary.
A lazy eye does not go away on its own. If a lazy eye is identified and treated in early childhood, reduced vision can be prevented. However, if left untreated, amblyopia can lead to permanent vision loss in the affected eye.
With proper treatment of a lazy eye, vision improves within weeks to months. In some cases, treatment may last from six months to two years. Depending on the child’s age, when treatment is initiated, and the severity of the problem, a lazy eye may not be completely cured.
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Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Lazy eye (amblyopia) in children: What are the treatment options for lazy eye (amblyopia)?, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279463/
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