Amblyopia also known as lazy eye is the leading cause of sight loss in children. Approximately 2 to 4% of children suffer from some form of the condition. It is important to diagnose and treat amblyopia as early as possible to prevent permanent sight loss. Amblyopia is caused by any condition that prevents one of the eyes from focusing. The most common conditions that create amblyopia are strabismus (eyes that turn or do not coordinate together), one eye being more farsighted than the other and large amounts of astigmatism (irregularly shaped cornea). Lazy eye can also be caused by some eye health conditions like a congenital cataract (a cataract you are born with).
The good news is that amblyopia is largely preventable when detected early. In the first years of life the connection from the eyes to the brain are still forming. Amblyopia gets much more difficult to treat as a child approaches age seven. By this time the connections from the eye to the brain have fully formed and developing new connections are difficult. The treatment for amblyopia depends on the cause. Most forms of amblyopia can be corrected by simply prescribing glasses. Lazy eye caused by strabismus sometimes requires surgical correction or eye muscle therapies to be effective. Patching one eye does force the weak eye to work and can help eyes when other forms of treatment do not improve.
The key to detecting amblyopia is to have children tested at a young age by an eye care professional. The American Optometric Association suggests that all children be tested at age 6-12 months, and also age three and five years old. More frequent examinations may be required for children at high risk. Examinations through pediatricians or school screening can be helpful, however we caution relying on them alone to test your children as many types of eye conditions go undetected. Research has shown that up the 75% of children’s vision problems are missed during screenings and of those that are detected 61% never get proper treatment. Over reliance on vision screening has resulted in almost 90% (not just amblyopia) of the population who need treatment for their (mostly in the form of glasses) not receiving treatment. Based on the inadequate rate of children receiving proper care, the American Public Health Association recommended that children have a comprehensive eye exam by an optometrist or ophthalmologist at age 6 months and age 3 and age 5.
The prognosis for full vision recovery from those treated for amblyopia is excellent. Children treated at a young age often have full recovery of their sight. Children left untreated can experience a lifetime of poor vision and reduced depth perception.This can affect their performance in many activities of life.There is some assurance by having two good eyes, that if something should happen there’s a back-up to prevent a more severe disability.
Please call our office to schedule an appointment so that we can help assure your children or grandchildren do not suffer from unnecessary disability with their sight. Summer is a great time to have your children’s eyes tested. We are here to help!