Childhood Amblyopia: What Parents Need To Know About Lazy Eye

If your child has been diagnosed with lazy eye, you may have a slew of questions for the eye doctor. You probably want to know what lazy eye actually is, what caused your child to develop the condition, and how to correct it. The medical term for lazy eye is amblyopia, a condition that most commonly occurs in one eye, affecting 2-3 percent of children in the United States. 

What Lazy Eye Is and Why It Should Be a Concern?

Developing in early childhood, this condition impairs the vision, typically in one eye. Because the affected eye does not develop properly, the other eye has to work harder and overcompensate. The brain then begins to ignore visual signals to the lazy eye, and this may lead to permanent vision loss in that eye. Left untreated, a child with lazy eye may lose partial or full vision.

Possible Causes of Amblyopia

Children with crossed eyes or a muscle imbalance in the eye may be more prone to developing lazy eye. Also, astigmatism or farsightedness that affects one eye may cause amblyopia. Children who were premature at birth also have a higher risk for developing lazy eye, as do those with a family history of the condition.

Symptoms to Be Alerted To

If you believe your child has lazy eye, you should seek a professional diagnosis from an eye doctor. However, there are symptoms to be on the lookout for during early childhood. These include the following:

  • An inward or outward appearance of one eye

  • Constant squinting or trouble focusing one eye

  • Turning the head to one side while reading or focusing on something

  • Difficulty determining the distance between objects

  • Frequent headaches

If you notice your child experiencing any of the above symptoms, make an appointment for a vision screening promptly. Also, if you notice one eye that tends to wander as early as in infancy, consult a pediatrician or a pediatric eye specialist. Failure to obtain a proper diagnosis and treatment may result in permanent vision loss during adulthood.

How Lazy Eye Is Treated

Once the ophthalmologist has made a conclusive diagnosis of amblyopia, he or she will devise a treatment plan. Most commonly, a prescription for eyeglasses will be necessary to correct lazy eye. Corrective glasses (or contact lenses as the child enters the teenage years) may help with farsightedness that could be causing lazy eye. It's important that the child wear the prescription eye wear as prescribed by the doctor.

Eye drops may also be prescribed. This is typically used a few times per week. The medication is intended to cause a slight blurriness in the normal eye. This helps stimulate and train the lazy eye to work more efficiently. The same result may be achieved by wearing an eye patch over the unaffected eye for several hours a day.

Eye therapy is another course of action. This may involve eye exercises or even activities like drawing or participating in computer-based games. Whether this will be beneficial for your child can be determined by the doctor.

In some cases, the child with lazy eye has other conditions such as cataracts or crossed eyes. In such a case, the ophthalmologist may recommend surgery to correct these issues. Surgery may also correct eyelids that droop. 

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