Lazy eye, also known as amblyopia, is a condition that results in reduced visual acuity in one or both eyes due to abnormal vision development. It affects patients in the early stages of their life. The symptoms can consist of one eye deviating, poor depth perception, squinting, blinking, and difficulties with simple tasks such as catching or throwing a ball, reading a book, writing on paper, and drawing sketches. Amblyopia can arise from various vision disorders, such as refractive anomalies, strabismus, and cataracts. They have a range of risk factors, including premature birth, low birth weight, and family history. Their treatment options vary according to the cause and may include eyeglasses, eye patches, surgical interventions, and specialized eye drops.

What is lazy eye (amblyopia)?

Amblyopia affects the normal functioning of the brain and the eye; it leads to reduced vision in that eye or both eyes. A lazy eye or amblyopia is a condition of decreased vision efficiency in one eye caused by abnormal vision development, often early in a patient’s life.

It occurs when there is a minor disconnect between how the brain understands and the way the eye perceives and works together. This condition leads to the brain’s inability to recognize sight from one eye.

Over time, the brain grows to rely highly on the stronger eye without you realizing it. This also worsens the weaker eye’s vision and creates an imbalance of imagery. This condition usually shows signs from birth up to age seven years.

What are the symptoms of a lazy eye?

There are various symptoms of a lazy eye to look out for. They include one of the eyes wandering inward or outward, eyes that appear not to work together, poor depth perception, incessant squinting or involuntary blinking of an eye, frequent head tilting to see better, and abnormal results of vision screening tests. In a few cases, amblyopia may not be evident without an eye exam.

Children with amblyopia may face difficulty in following an object or person with their eyes, regularly complain of tired eyes, experience frequent headaches, have difficulty catching or throwing a ball in the right direction along with a tendency to trip or fall over, blink a lot, and may have problems with reading, writing, and drawing.

It’s important to note that many children may not notice anything precisely wrong with their vision because they rely on something other than a monocular vision that often. Parents need to pay attention to signs of their child’s vision that might show symptoms like squinting, shutting one eye to see better, or regularly tilting their head because it helps them see better.

Lazy Eye Causes

A range of vision irregularities and problems, such as refractive errors, strabismus, and cataracts, can lead to amblyopia. The brain may start to ignore and devalue the signals from the weaker eye and prioritize the feedback it gets from the dominant eye when an eye condition reduced vision in one eye.

A lazy eye can also occur due to an abnormal visual experience, like strabismus’s early onset, which can change how nerves interact between the retina and the brain. It can blur your child’s vision in one eye or cause the eyes to cross to create a mismatch in how your eyes work, resulting in a lazy weaker eye.

Another cause of lazy eyes is a developing imbalance in the muscles that control the position of the eyes. A significant difference in vision sharpness between the eyes can also result in this problem. You can notice this when you check the prescription your ophthalmologist hands out.

Is My Child At Risk For Amblyopia?

There are numerous risk factors associated with amblyopia that you can consider before determining if your child is at risk and taking them to the doctor:

Premature birth can hugely increase the chances of a child developing amblyopia. Babies born before 37 weeks of gestation are considered premature and may be at higher risk.

Small size at birth can also contribute to being a risk factor for amblyopia. If your child was smaller than average at birth, they may have a few development issues in their eyes and be at a higher risk for developing the condition.

It’s crucial to thoroughly understand your family history because it can cause and contribute to childhood cataracts or other eye conditions that can also increase the likelihood of your child developing amblyopia.

Developmental disabilities can also be a significant risk factor for amblyopia. If your child has any developmental delays or disabilities, they should be checked and tested for the condition.

It is important to note that some children may be born with amblyopia, while others may develop it later in childhood. It is recommended that all children receive a vision screening at least once before they turn 5, regardless of any apparent risk factors.

Lazy Eye Treatment

The method of treating a lazy eye depends on the condition’s cause and the deterioration. The treatment aims to give the eyes the proper stimulus to improve vision coordination. A typical treatment involves wearing glasses to correct vision. Another remedy doctors recommend is wearing an eye patch over the dominant eye regularly for a few hours a day for a stipulated amount of time decided by your doctor.

If cataracts or a droopy eyelid causes a lazy eye, surgery may be necessary to correct the problem. Similarly, the surgeon might suggest that the surgery can straighten the eyes and help them work better together if you have a squint. The surgeon will also recommend when it’s a good age to get the surgery done, as your eyes can heal differently, and your face continues to grow across various ages.

Doctors may first treat any underlying vision problem with glasses or contacts for kids suffering from amblyopia, such as nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism. Along with that ongoing treatment, the weaker eye must be re-trained by forcing the brain to use it. This is usually done by wearing a patch on the dominant eye or using special eye drops that blur the vision temporarily. These treatments should ideally start before age 7 when sight is still developing.

Treating a lazy eye early is essential to avoid lifelong vision problems. After starting treatment, your vision may improve within weeks, and you can see long-term benefits over several months. Primary therapies like eye patches or drops may need to be used periodically to prevent reversal or the issue from returning.

Lazy Eye in Older Children and Adults

Lazy eye or amblyopia can occur in older children and adults, but it is less common than in young children. Treatment for amblyopia is usually less effective in adults than children, but it’s crucial to spot and get help as soon as you suspect it.

Misalignment can occur due to residual childhood strabismus or an onset of the same in adulthood. If you have had the condition since childhood, and the misalignment is suddenly noticeable, there is a misalignment due to a few temporary issues. However, in cases of sudden misalignment in adulthood, patients will almost always complain of double vision.

Adult strabismus can result from thyroid eye disease, stroke, or brain tumors. Sometimes, with old age setting in, there might be a soft tissue change surrounding the eye, causing strabismus often, and there is no immediate trigger to identify with.

It is essential to consult an expert to diagnose the misalignment properly. They might require blood tests or imaging studies like an MRI. If the underlying cause is a refractive error, such as sight issues, glasses or contact lenses may be prescribed. Sometimes, eye muscle surgery may be necessary to correct the misalignment in adults as there is a risk of vision loss.

Kids should have yearly vision screenings to diagnose and treat issues through their pediatrician or school and periodic comprehensive eye exams with a trained and comfortable ophthalmologist or optometrist right from the preschool years to catch vision problems before a child reaches visual maturity.