Amblyopia, also known as the lazy eye, is a rare eye disorder wherein one eye cannot achieve normal vision even with eyeglasses or contact lenses because the eye and the brain is not properly coordinated. Amblyopia usually begins during infancy and early childhood. Untreated amblyopia may lead to functional blindness in the affected eye. Although the amblyopic eye has the capability to see, the brain “turns off” this eye because vision is very blurred, and the brain elects to see only with the stronger eye.
Trauma to the eye at any age can cause amblyopia, as well as a strong uncorrected refractive error (nearsightedness or farsightedness) or strabismus. It’s important to correct amblyopia as early as possible, before the brain learns to entirely ignore vision in the affected eye.
Amblyopic children can be treated with vision therapy (which often includes patching one eye), atropine eye drops, the correct prescription for nearsightedness or farsightedness, or surgery.
Vision therapy exercises the eyes and helps both eyes work as a team. Vision therapy for someone with amblyopia forces the brain to see through the amblyopic eye, thus restoring vision.
Sometimes the eye doctor or vision therapist will place a patch over the stronger eye to force the weaker eye to learn to see. Patching may be required for several hours each day or even all day long and may continue for weeks or months.
In some children, atropine eye drops have been used instead of an eye patch. Atropine blurs vision in the good eye, which forces your child to use the eye with amblyopia more, to strengthen it. However, atropine does have side effects that should be considered: light sensitivity (because the eye is constantly dilated), flushing and possible paralysis of the ciliary muscle after long-term atropine use, which could affect the eye’s accommodation, or ability to change focus.
Surgery is best for amblyopic children with an underlying physical problem, such as strabismus. The surgery corrects the muscle problem that causes strabismus so the eyes can focus together and see properly.