What is a lazy eye? Often times, people think of a crossed eye or an eye that wanders when they hear of the term lazy eye. However, a person can have a lazy eye without manifesting those symptoms.
Optometrists use the term amblyopia for lazy eye. Amblyopia is a condition where an individual does not see well in one or both eyes due to the connections from the optic nerve to the brain not being developed completely, rather than due to requiring glasses/contact lenses or having a disease. Amblyopia can cause loss of vision and loss of depth perception.
Why does this happen? There are many reasons why a patient could have Amblyopia, including untimely treatment for a required prescription, a crossed or wandering eye, or an eyelid that droops occluding the eye. Often, in the case of a patient who requires a prescription at a young age, if treatment is provided early enough, Amblyopia can be prevented.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Amblyopia is one of the easiest conditions to treat and prevent if diagnosed early. Nearly, three to four percent of children under the age of 6 have amblyopia. Routine eye examinations starting at 6 months of age, and a yearly examination after that, are essential in the early diagnosis of this condition. When diagnosed early, often your optometrist will prescribe eyeglasses to provide proper stimulation and a clear image to the eye to prevent the eye from becoming lazy or amblyopic. If one eye is lazier than the other, then patching treatment may be introduced, where the better seeing eye is patched for a certain number of hours depending on the severity of the amblyopia. This treatment is very effective when done correctly performing visually stimulating tasks during patching, including tasks at close distances. The patch is often worn over eyeglasses to stimulate the poorer seeing eye to focus and facilitate connections from the optic nerve to the brain to develop.
Amblyopia can be treated fairly easily from the ages of 0 to 6 years. From ages 6 to 11, improvements in vision can be achieved with treatment, but may not be fully correctable. After the age of 11 years, most of the connections from the optic nerve to the brain have already been developed and improvement in vision is more challenging. The optic nerve in the eye is a direct extension of the brain, and after a certain age, the brain has less plasticity, thereby making it very difficult to treat amblyopia. However, studies have shown that the brain may be able to change later in life and some degree of treatment may be possible.
To have the greatest chance of success in remedying this condition, bring your child in for an eye exam today! Good vision is essential to learning. Eye examinations in Ontario are covered by OHIP for children 19 years of age and younger.