Lazy eye (amblyopia)
Lazy eye (amblyopia)
Lazy eye (amblyopia) is a reduction in visual acuity that results from abnormal visual development during infancy and early childhood. Lazy eye usually affects just one eye, but it may affect both eyes. With lazy eye, there is no apparent damage or abnormality to the eye. Lazy eye is the leading cause of decreased vision among children. Left untreated, the loss of vision may range from mild to severe.
Lazy eye develops when nerve pathways between the brain and the eye aren't properly stimulated. This can lead to a condition in which the brain favors one eye, usually due to poor vision in the other eye. The weaker eye tends to wander. Eventually, the brain may ignore the signals received from the weaker — or lazy — eye.
Conservative treatments such as corrective eye wear or eye patches can often correct lazy eye. Sometimes, lazy eye requires surgical treatment.
Signs and symptoms of lazy eye include:
Although lazy eye usually affects just one eye, it's possible for both eyes to be affected.
When to see a doctor
Anything that blurs a child's vision or causes the eyes to cross or turn out may cause lazy eye. Some of the more common causes include:
Lazy eye tends to run in families. Lazy eye may be more likely among children who were born prematurely or those who have developmental delays as they get older.
Left untreated, lazy eye can cause permanent vision loss. In fact, lazy eye is the most common cause of single-eye vision impairment in young and middle-aged adults, according to the National Eye Institute.
Preparing for your appointment
Your child is most likely to be diagnosed with lazy eye during a comprehensive vision exam. Every child should have a complete eye exam between ages 3 and 5. If your child is in this age range or has any symptoms of eye or vision problems, make an appointment with your doctor. You may be referred to an ophthalmologist.
Before the appointment, write down your child's medical history and make a list of your questions. Your time with the doctor is limited and appointments can go fast, so it helps to be prepared.
Plan to tell the doctor about:
Your questions for the doctor about lazy eye might include:
Tests and diagnosis
Lazy eye is diagnosed with a thorough eye exam. Your doctor will look for a wandering eye, as well as a difference in vision between the eyes or poor vision in both eyes. Special diagnostic tests aren't usually needed.
Treatments and drugs
Ideally, lazy eye treatment begins in early childhood — when the complicated connections between the eye and the brain are forming. Depending on the cause and the degree to which your child's vision is affected, treatment options may include:
For most children with lazy eye, proper treatment improves vision within weeks to several months — and the earlier treatment begins, the better. Although research suggests that the treatment window extends through at least age 17, results are better when treatment begins in early childhood.
Last Updated: 2010-11-19
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