Amblyopia, also known as lazy eye, is a common cause of vision problems in early childhood. Three percent of children under the age of six suffer from amblyopia. If left untreated, amblyopia can cause vision loss in the affected eye.

What is amblyopia?

Amblyopia is a vision development disorder that occurs in children. It is not an eye disease and it is not a type of vision error that can be treated with glasses. Amblyopia occurs when the brain does not process the images seen by the amblyopic eye, thereby weakening the eye. Usually only one eye is affected.

Amblyopia is often confused with strabismus, or crossed eyes. They are not the same condition; however, strabismus is one of the primary causes of amblyopia.

Symptoms of amblyopia

Amblyopia can be difficult to diagnose. In infants and children, amblyopia is characterized by the following symptoms: 

  • Eyes that turns in or out 
  • Eyes that do not appear to work together properly
  • Poor depth perception 
  • Strabismus (crossed eyes)

One test that doctors use to diagnose amblyopia in infants is covering one eye at a time. If the child cries or fusses when one eye is covered that may demonstrate that the uncovered eye is amblyopic.

Causes of amblyopia

Amblyopia develops when the eyes and the brain are not functioning together as a unit. Strabismus (crossed eyes) is a common cause of amblyopia. Children with refractive errors in both eyes may also suffer from amblyopia. In both cases, one eye becomes stronger than the other does and the brain suppresses images from the weaker eye.

Treatment of amblyopia

Early intervention is the key to successfully treating amblyopia. The first step is to determine the underlying cause of the disorder. If refractive error is to blame, glasses can be prescribed to improve focusing ability and strengthen the weakened eye. An eye patch can also be used for several hours a day to force the development of the amblyopic eye. When amblyopia is caused by strabismus, surgery can be used to straighten the eyes, followed by patching and vision therapy.

If you notice signs of amblyopia in your child, schedule an appointment with an optometrist for a vision test.


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