Amblyopia: Let’s Take a Closer Look at Lazy Eye
Most people do not frequently hear the term amblyopia. When we see that one eye wanders inward or outward or that the eyes don’t seem to track simultaneously, what we usually say is that a person has a “lazy eye.” Amblyopia is a relatively common condition. More than 200,000 new diagnoses are made each year. Because this condition can affect a person’s quality of life, it is important that we recognize it and know what to do about it.
What is going on with the eyes?
Vision is produced by a concerted effort between the eyes and the brain. When light enters the front of the eye, it is directly to the retina, which sits at the back of the eye. The retina contains numerous light-sensitive cells. When light hits them, nerve impulses are triggered and passed through the optic nerve to the brain. These nerve impulses are interpreted by the brain, forming a visual image. When a person has amblyopia, the processing of light from lens to retina to optic nerve to brain is not working.
Amblyopia May Not Look Like You Think
When we hear the term “lazy eye,” we may form a distinct image of what that looks like. We’ve got to clear up this misconception. Many cases of amblyopia occur in early childhood, before a patient can tell a parent or doctor what is wrong with their vision. If we don’t understand that amblyopia can occur in eyes that look perfectly aligned, we can miss important clues.
Amblyopia may be caused by strabismus, or poor muscle tone around one or both eyes. Strabismus is the condition in which misalignment is obvious.
A lazy eye may also occur due to a refractive error in one eye. For example, one eye may be severely nearsighted or farsighted. The brain will then ignore signals from that eye because they are blurry. This eye then becomes lazy.
Deprivation may also cause a lazy eye to develop. Deprivation amblyopia means that light is being blocked from landing on the retina at the back of the eye. A common cause for this is a congenital cataract.
Amblyopia Treatment in Children
Patching is one of the common ways in which amblyopia in children is treated. This therapy forces the underworked eye to strengthen. However, a doctor may suggest other treatments depending on the underlying cause of visual misalignment. Refractive errors may be managed with eyeglasses in conjunction with patching. Strabismus surgery may be necessary in some cases to restore alignment in the muscles that support eye movements.
Can an Adult be Treated for Amblyopia?
It was previously believed that amblyopia could only be corrected in childhood. However, new research on brain plasticity has revealed that we are continually regenerating new brain pathways. Therefore, by forcing the lazy eye to work, using the same methods used in childhood, it is possible to improve overall visual function.
Children cannot tell us that they don’t see well. An eye exam can be scheduled anytime vision seems suspect. Otherwise, a child should have their first eye exam before entering school.