Lazy eye (amblyopia)
Lazy eye (amblyopia)
Lazy eye (amblyopia) is decreased vision that results from abnormal visual development in infancy and early childhood. Although lazy eye usually affects only one eye, it can affect both eyes. Lazy eye is the leading cause of decreased vision among children. Left untreated, vision loss may range from mild to severe.
With lazy eye, there may not be an obvious abnormality of the eye. Lazy eye develops when nerve pathways between the brain and the eye aren't properly stimulated. As a result, the brain favors one eye, usually due to poor vision in the other eye. The weaker eye tends to wander. Eventually, the brain may ignore the signals received from the weaker — or lazy — eye.
Usually doctors can correct lazy eye with eye patches, eyedrops, and glasses or contact lenses. Sometimes lazy eye requires surgical treatment.
Signs and symptoms of lazy eye include:
Although lazy eye usually affects just one eye, it's possible for both eyes to be affected. Sometimes lazy eye is not evident without an eye exam.
When to see a doctor
Depending on the circumstances, your doctor may refer your child to a specialist in eye conditions (ophthalmologist or optometrist). For all children, a complete eye exam is recommended between ages 3 and 5.
Anything that blurs a child's vision or causes the eyes to cross or turn out may cause lazy eye. There are three common causes of lazy eye:
Occasionally, a wandering eye is the first sign of an eye tumor.
Lazy eye tends to run in families. Lazy eye may be more likely among children who are born prematurely or with low birth weight, or who are born in a family with a history of childhood cataracts or serious eye disease.
Left untreated, lazy eye can cause permanent vision loss. In fact, lazy eye is the most common cause of single-eye vision impairment in young and middle-aged adults.
Preparing for your appointment
Your child is most likely to be diagnosed with lazy eye during a vision exam. Every child should have a complete eye exam between ages 3 and 5. If your child is in this age range or has any symptoms of eye or vision problems, make an appointment with your doctor. He or she may refer you to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist or optometrist).
What you can do
Some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to questions you've prepared in advance, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment anytime you don't understand something.
Tests and diagnosis
Your doctor will diagnose lazy eye with a thorough eye exam. He or she will look for a wandering eye, as well as a difference in vision between the eyes or poor vision in both eyes. Depending on your child's age, tests may include the following:
Your doctor may also check for inflammation, tumors and other inner eye problems.
Treatments and drugs
Ideally, lazy eye treatment begins in early childhood — when the complicated connections between the eye and the brain are forming. Depending on the cause and the degree to which your child's vision is affected, treatment options may include:
For some children, glasses or contact lenses alone will improve lazy eye, but other children also need to use a patch or eyedrops. Patches and eyedrops appear to work equally well except when the stronger eye is nearsighted.
A number of "active" treatments such as drawing, puzzles or computer games — sometimes in addition to patching or eyedrops — are now available. However, good evidence does not yet exist for their effectiveness compared with "passive" treatments such as eyedrops and patching.
For most children with lazy eye, proper treatment improves vision within weeks to several months — and the earlier the treatment is started, the better. Although research suggests that the treatment window extends through the teenage years, results are better when treatment begins in early childhood.
Last Updated: 2013-07-03
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