This week’s blog on ‘Amblyopia (lazy eye)’ has been contributed by Dr. Namir Kafil-Hussain, Consultant Paediatric Ophthalmologist, Specialist in Children’s Eye Diseases, Strabismus (Squint) and Paediatric Cataract Surgery
What is Amblyopia?
Amblyopia or lazy eye is the most common cause of visual defect in children. It happens when the eye fails to work properly with the brain.
The eye may look normal, but the brain favors the other eye. This can happen in the critical period of eye development, which is from birth until about age 7, a child’s eyes and brain form vital connections. Anything that blocks or blurs vision in one or both eyes can slow down or prevent these connections and consequently lazy eye. In some cases it can affect both eyes.
A number of things can interfere with normal brain–eye connections and lead to amblyopia;
- Strabismus (squint): a disorder in which the two eyes don’t line up in the same direction.
- Refractive errors: when one eye cannot focus as well as the other. This includes nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism.
- Cataract: a clouding in the lens of the eye.
- Droopy lid.
- Genetics play a role, too. Amblyopia tends to run in families. It’s also more common in children born prematurely or those with developmental delays.
Unfortunately, most children with amblyopia won’t complain of vision problems. Often, a parent or teacher might realize that a child is struggling with a vision problem, maybe noticing crossed eyes, frequent squinting, or tilting the head to see better. Some kids have poor depth perception (trouble seeing in three dimensions), difficulty with sports and clumsiness.
Regular vision screenings by health professionals are an important part of finding any problems in children. These exams should begin in the toddler and preschool years so that problems are caught before a child reaches visual maturity.
Treatment should be started as early as possible. The aim of the treatment is to force the child to use the eye with weaker vision. This is done with glasses, eye patches, eye drops, surgery, or a combination of these.