Amblyopia, more commonly known as “lazy eye,” is a condition where one eye has reduced visual acuity, even with proper eyewear. Amblyopia happens when information from one eye is ignored or suppressed by the brain. The problem is how the brain processes information from the affected eye. Amblyopia can occur in both eyes and can turn into a serious eye health issue.
Eyeglasses alone are not enough to treat Amblyopia. Because the problem is how the brain processes information, simply fixing the eye sight of the eye does not guarantee the brain will be able to properly translate what the eye is seeing and use both eyes together.
If the brain receives two images from the eyes – one blurry and one clear – the brain will prefer the clear one and ignore the blurry one. This suppression of one eye can lead to reduced acuity over time. This can cause other issues for the amblyopic eye including focusing, tracking, depth perception and hand-eye coordination. This can lead to clumsiness, difficulty throwing or catching, squinting, trouble reading or using a computer, and headaches.
There are many misconceptions about Amblyopia (“lazy eye”):
1. Amblyopia Is Not Common
Amblyopia can affect about 2-3% of children, which makes it one of the most common causes of reduced vision. It is estimated that there are over 19 million people in the United States with “lazy eye.” It is important to have children regularly screened, not just for eye sight, but for overall eye health and function.
2. Patching is the most effective treatment for Amblyopia
While patching has been a common method of treating Amblyopia, newer approaches do not involve patching at all. While patching helps the brain only interpret one image at a time, it does not necessarily help it make sense of two differing images. So patching alone does not always address the root cause of Amblyopia. As a result, vision therapy and working with the affected (amblyopic) eye is a more comprehensive solution.
3. Ambylopia can only be treated in children.
It was previously believed that Amblyopia can only be treated before age eight. This was based on the incorrect idea that the brain does not retain neuroplasticity, the ability to make new connections, after early development. We now understand that the brain does in fact retain neuroplasticity, and with vision therapy Amblyopia can be treated into adulthood.
4. 20/20 vision cures Amblyopia
Many people, including doctors, are prone to this misconception. Because Amblyopia is not just an eye problem, but a brain processing issue, simply fixing the eye sight does not necessarily solve the overall problem, if the brain cannot properly sync the two images it receives. The brain can still suppress information from one eye and rely on just one image, which creates a problem of poor depth perception. Vision therapy that trained (trains) the brain to use the eyes equally together is often required to develop quality depth perception.
5. Amblyopia is easy to identify
Many parents believe that eye conditions will be identified by school screenings or pediatrician checks. However, these are no replacements for an exam by an eye specialist. School screenings are very basic and not comprehensive. In addition, many children are good at “memorizing” the answers and often do not reveal they are having trouble in one eye from a vision check alone. Amblyopia is one of the most commonly missed conditions because many children do not receive a comprehensive exam.
Parents also commonly miss Amblyopia because children do not have a frame of reference for “normal vision.” As a result, they may not be able to articulate the challenges they are facing and may just assume they are common. Many times issues at school or in play are later found to have a root cause of Amblyopia.
Identifying Amblyopia early significantly improves treatment outcomes, so early detection is critical and often overlooked. At OCVT, we perform exams on children as young as 6 months old and Amblyopia can be identified even at that age, well before a child can speak or convey their thoughts.