Lazy eye, also known as amblyopia is the most common cause of preventable sight loss in children. In fact, about 3% of children will have some degree of lazy eye. Amblyopia develops early in life due to improper focus or alignment of one of the eyes. The most common cause of lazy eye is farsightedness especially if one eye is more farsighted than the other. The second most common cause of amblyopia is misalignment of the eyes, also called strabismus.
Amblyopia occurs when the image from one eye is suppressed during the development of the brain’s connections to the eyes. These visual connections to the brain are largely formed by age 4 but remain plastic (moldable until age 7). When these pathways are not formed the eye can look normal but have reduced vision. Lazy eye can be mild or reach the level of legal blindness if not treated.
Amblyopia can be prevented and treated if it is identified early in life. The prognosis for vision improvement with treatment is best when detected early. For this reason the American Optometric Association recommends all children be tested by an eye care professional by the age of one. It is recommended that children be tested at 1 year, 3 years and 5 years of age unless otherwise directed by your eye care professional. The prognosis for vision recovery from amblyopia drops greatly after age 7. School and pediatrician screenings are helpful to detect severe cases but have been shown to miss about 40% or more of vision problems. They are not a substitute for a professional eye exam.
The treatment for amblyopia can include wearing glasses, patching the good eye, vision therapy and on occasion surgery. It is helpful to know that simply having glasses that allow the eyes to work together corrects most cases of lazy eye. The type of treatment that a child receives is dependent on the cause of the child’s amblyopia and the age of the child. Follow-up visits are more common during the first year of treatment. Most cases of amblyopia are corrected during the first year of treatment, but require continued wear of glasses to prevent recurrence before age 8.
We are making an effort at our office this Summer to reach out in our community. We want to stop this common cause of preventable sight loss in our children. Spread the word. Have your children and grandchildren’s eyes checked at the recommended intervals. Age 1, 3 and 5 at an eye doctor – that’s all that is needed to identify children with lazy eye. Let’s give our children the opportunity to experience life to the fullest with both eyes seeing their best!
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