Lazy eye, medically known as amblyopia, is an eye condition characterized by poor vision in one or both eyes that is usually not correctable by eyeglasses or contact lenses. It is not caused by any eye disease, but usually occurs when visual development is interrupted during early childhood, from birth to seven years. It’s easier to treat the condition in children below seven years old than in adults. Treatment options in both cases, however, are more or less the same. If you’re suffering from lazy eye or you have a kid who has the condition, the following tips will help you get rid of it as soon as possible.
How to Check for Lazy Eye
People often confuse lazy eye with crossed or turned eye (strabismus), but the two conditions are different. The confusion may be due to the fact that strabismus can cause lazy eye, when one or both eyes turn all the time. Many cases of lazy eye, however, don’t have noticeable symptoms like strabismus. The following is a step-by-step guide to check your child for lazy eye. You can also ask someone to help you if you want to check yourself for the condition:
- Step 1: Take a pen or any bright-colored object, and have your child follow it with his eyes.
- Step 2: Watch your child’s eyes closely as you move the object slowly to the right and to the left.
- Step 3: Stop at the center, then move the object up and down.
- Step 4: Repeat this process as you observe if one of the child’s eyes is slow to follow.
- Step 5: Cover one of his eyes, then move the object again in the same way.
- Step 6: Finally, cover the other eye, and repeat the procedure. If your child is suffering from lazy eye, then it should be obvious if one eye is moving slower than the other.
Other symptoms: A lot of people suffering from lazy eye are not aware that they have the condition until they’re tested at older ages, because the vision in their stronger eye is normal. The following are the other symptoms of amblyopia aside from slow eye movement:
- poor depth perception
- poor spatial acuity
- low sensitivity to contrast
- problems with binocular vision
- difficulty in seeing hidden 3D images in Magic Eye books
Go to your doctor immediately if you suspect that you or your child has lazy eye. Your doctor may employ other diagnostic procedures to confirm if your suspicion is right, or he may discover that your child is suffering from a different illness. Diagnostic tests for lazy eye is not only limited to the standard 20/20 letter charts used by schools and eye doctors. Tests using cycloplegic drops may be necessary to detect the condition in younger children.
Treating Lazy Eye
Treatment for lazy eye should begin only after you or your child has been diagnosed with the condition. Do not take any of the following steps without consulting your doctor first. Lazy eye differs from one patient to the other, so there is no one treatment method for all cases. Talk to your doctor about what’s the best treatment for you or your child’s condition.
- Lenses for refractive amblyopia: Refractive amblyopia is a type of lazy eye that occurs when there is a difference in the refraction between the two eyes. It is less severe and less noticeable than lazy eye caused by strabismus, so physicians commonly miss it during diagnosis. If diagnosed however, the doctor may prescribe the use of eyeglasses to help the eyes focus. He may also recommend the use of an eye patch to improve the function of the amblyopic eye or the impaired eye.
- Try vision therapy: In most cases, the amblyopic eye has the capability to see, but the brain turns it off because its vision is blurred, which means the brain only chooses to see with the stronger eye. Left untreated, this condition can lead to functional blindness in the affected eye. Vision therapy exercises both eyes and helps them work as a team. It forces the brain to see through the amblyopic eye to restore vision. Since lazy eye manifests differently among patients, vision therapy involves a combination of different techniques that are modified for each patient.
- Use an eye patch: One of the most commonly used techniques in vision therapy is the use of an eye patch. The doctor puts an eye patch on the stronger eye to force the amblyopic eye to learn to see. Your doctor may require you or your child to wear the eye patch for 20 to 30 minutes three times a day, and then increase the time until the patch is worn all day. This treatment may last for weeks or months until the weaker eye shows improvement or moves correctly. New studies indicate, however, that shorter periods of wearing eye patch may just be as effective.
- Some children get irritated with the eye patch material, so they try to take it off. Older people with lazy eye, on the other hand, may find it impractical and awkward to wear the eye patch in public or when going to work or school. You might consider a prosthetic contact lens that’s specially designed to block vision in the good eye, but matches the color of the other eye. It’s much simpler to use and less noticeable than the eye patch, but it works just as effectively.
- Prosthetic contact lens may also work for children, but they need to be trained to feel comfortable using it. If your child rejects the prosthetic lens, try using eye patches without adhesive because they’re not as irritating as regular eye patches. These patches simply slide onto the temple of an eyeglass flame, and come in different styles and designs. Observe your eyes or your child’s eyes each month to check for any improvement. If there’s none, go see your doctor.
- Activities to do while wearing an eye patch: Doing detailed work is an excellent idea if your child is wearing an eye patch. Daily activities could include: drawing, coloring, reading, connecting dots, or any other activity that requires eye use and concentration. Although your child may object to it, it is a good idea for him to wear the patch at school since this is where he does his most concentrated work. Remember that your child is relying on his weaker eye to see, so don’t take your eyes off him when you go outdoors. In addition, when one eye is patched, the child has no 3D vision, so he may wrongly judge distances and be more prone to accidents. Make sure that there’s always somebody watching over him if you’re not around.
- Possible complications: Aside from irritation, older children with lazy eye have a small risk of developing double vision from eye patches. If this happens, stop the eye patch treatment immediately and consult your doctor or orthoptic department. The orthoptist will observe the risk of this happening and stop if the risk of developing double vision is too high.
- Consider atropine drops: Atropine drops work the same way as eye patches do. Atropine is a tropane alkaloid extracted from plants and serves as a drug with a variety of effects. It blurs vision in the good eye, so that you force the weaker eye to work more, strengthening it. Atropine drops are best for children because you don’t need to constantly watch your child lest he takes off his patch. One study compared atropine drops to eye patching in 419 children ages 3 to 7. The results turned out to be so good that some eye care practitioners now prefer atropine over eye patch as their first choice for lazy eye treatment. Since atropine is a drug, however, it causes some side effects that you should consider, such as: light sensitivity because the eye is always dilated, and flushing or the risk of paralysis of the ciliary muscle after long-term use. This could affect the eye’s ability to change focus and accommodate images.
- Surgery: When all of the above treatments fail to work, then it’s time to consider surgery. Surgery is best for children and adults with a more serious physical problem, like strabismus. Surgery corrects muscle problems that cause strabismus, so the eyes can focus together and see more clearly. There is no one method of surgery for lazy eye. It depends on the nature of the lazy eye and the severity of the condition. Some types of lazy eye are beyond surgical means of treatment.
Remember to consult an optometrist or ophthalmologist for lazy eye or any other eye problem. If your lazy eye is a birth defect, there are probably more areas that have developed in an incorrect way aside from the eyes, so you need to be checked for other problems. Don’t give up if there aren’t any visible improvement after the first couple of weeks of treatment. It may take a long time for your weaker eye to strengthen itself and see more properly.
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