Lazy eyes aren’t actually lazy. Even though it sounds like a voluntary condition, people with a lazy eye can’t control it. It happens because the eye and brain aren’t able to work together.
Lazy eye is formally called amblyopia (am-blee-OH-pee-uh). It’s a relatively common condition and is actually the most common cause of vision loss in kids, affecting about 3 out every 100 children. It usually develops before age 6, making it essential that your child sees an optometrist for eye exams early in life. Detecting amblyopia early with an assessment at six months and again at age three can help ensure effective treatment to avoid long-term vision problems.
Amblyopia is not always obvious, but there are several symptoms for which parents can be on the watch. If your child is bumping into objects or tilting their head to see better, it may be caused by a lazy eye. Favouring one eye or squinting are other common symptoms.
Amblyopia is usually only in one eye, but it can be in both. Since it’s often difficult to spot, it’s best to have their eyes checked regularly to ensure an optometrist catches the condition early.
Sometimes, amblyopia can be caused by the need for a prescription that’s gone undetected. Large refractive errors allow the weaker eye to become lazy as the one with stronger vision overcompensates. It can also result from vision deprivation in one eye from a condition like congenital cataracts, corneal opacities, or a droopy upper eyelid (ptosis).
Risk factors include premature birth, developmental delays, or a family history of amblyopia. Strabismus, or crossed eyes, can also contribute to the development of a lazy eye because the eyes aren’t working well as a pair.
Early detection and intervention is key to treating amblyopia before it creates long-term vision issues. Treatment in adulthood is much less effective.
Prescriptive lenses may be an option to correct your child’s vision. A more typical treatment is wearing a patch that can help strengthen the weaker eye. A disposable patch is placed over the stronger eye for a specified period of time each day, which forces the brain to use the weaker one. A similar effect can be created using blurring atropine eye drops in the eye with stronger vision. Many parents find this to be a useful option, especially in younger children who are prone to tearing off a patch.
In some cases, like when amblyopia is caused by a misalignment of the eyes, prisms can help manage the problem. Vision therapy is also employed to enhance eye coordination through a series of exercises.
Your optometrists will have a discussion with you to determine the best treatment plan to correct your child’s lazy eye.
When to worry
While amblyopia is a serious condition that can affect vision, try not to worry. Treatment is generally very effective when the condition is identified early. Amblyopia is more difficult to correct once your child’s vision has fully developed, usually around age 7-9. Have your child’s vision screened regularly and book an appointment as soon as possible if you notice any symptoms.