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Lazy Eye (Amblyopia) In Children: Signs, Causes, And Treatment

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Lazy eye or amblyopia is an eye disorder that occurs when one eye becomes weaker than the other, resulting in poor vision in the weaker eye during childhood (1). The condition affects around 3% of children and is the most common cause of vision loss (2). Fortunately, early diagnosis and the right treatment can help avoid complications and long-term vision impairment.

Read this post to know more about lazy eye in children, its signs, diagnosis, and treatment.

What Happens In Amblyopia In Children?

Amblyopia occurs when there is a malfunction in the eye-brain connection. The brain is unable to recognize vision from one eye. Eventually, the brain begins to ignore the eye with the blurred vision and relies more on the ‘stronger’ eye, worsening the vision in the weaker eye (1) (2).

In some children, amblyopia is not easily noticeable. In fact, even children might be unaware that the vision of one of their eyes is affected. Therefore, it becomes critical to have regular and early eye exams in children.

Symptoms Of Lazy Eye In Children

The symptoms of lazy eye could be hardly noticeable in children. Children with amblyopia usually display the following signs and symptoms of the condition (1) (2).

  • Poor depth perception
  • Difficulty in telling if the object is far or near
  • Bump into things, particularly on one side
  • Have a difference in nearsightedness or farsightedness between the two eyes
  • Favor one side of the body
  • Have crossed eyes
  • Have a droopy eyelid
  • Shut one eye often
  • Squint too much
  • Tilt their head to one side 

Can Lazy Eye Be Fixed In Children?

Yes, early diagnosis can increase the chances of a full recovery. It usually takes several weeks to months to improve the vision of the ‘lazy’ or weaker eye (3).

Causes Of Lazy Eye In Children

In most cases, doctors may not know the cause of lazy eye. However, amblyopia usually occurs when there is a difference in the focusing ability of each eye (2).  Some of the eye problems that may cause amblyopia are the following (1) (2).

1. Refractive errors

These conditions affect how light passes through the eyes and include:

  • Nearsightedness (trouble seeing distant objects; also known as myopia)
  • Farsightedness (trouble seeing nearer objects, also known as hyperopia)
  • Astigmatism (blurry vision due to curved cornea)

2. Strabismus

The eyes usually move together. However, in this condition, an imbalance in the lengths of the eye muscles causes misalignment in the eyes’ position. It could cause one eye to drift in, out, up, or down. Strabismus, also called crossed eyes, may cause the brain to rely on one eye more than the other, resulting in amblyopia.

3. Structural problems

Structural issues could lead to amblyopia. These include:

  • Cataracts (blurry vision due to cloudiness in the lens)
  • Droopy eyelid
  • A scar on the cornea
  • Eye injury or surgery

Risk And Complications Of Lazy Eye

Some children are born with the condition, while others develop it during childhood. There is an increased risk of developing amblyopia in children who (1) (2):

  • Are born prematurely.
  • Weighed smaller than average at birth.
  • Have developmental disabilities.
  • Have a family history of other eye conditions,  amblyopia, or childhood cataracts.

If untreated, the condition can result in long-term vision problems, including vision loss in the affected eye.

When To See A Doctor?

Consult an ophthalmologist if you notice any of the symptoms of amblyopia in your child. When planning a visit, make a list of the following points.

  1. Symptoms, even those that may seem unrelated
  1. Medications, vitamins, and supplements your child takes, including doses
  1. Medical information, including other conditions or allergies
  1. Family history of eye problems, such as lazy eye, cataracts, or glaucoma
  1. Questions you want  to ask your doctor

Diagnosis Of Amblyopia In Children

The American Optometric Association recommends a thorough vision screening in children before they are six months old, and when they are three years old (4). The child’s vision should be checked at least once between the ages of three and five years. These assessments could help in the early diagnosis of the condition.

During diagnostic procedures, an ophthalmologist checks the difference in the visions of both eyes. They might cover an eye or place a patch over it to determine whether the child can follow a moving object with an eye. The doctor may also shine a light on the eyes, administer eye drops to dilate the pupil, and ask the child to read letters on a chart (4).

They may also observe the reaction of the child with an eye patch. For instance, if the child has a problem, they will try to look above or below the patch. Younger children may try to remove it or cry (3).

These tests could help determine the underlying cause of lazy eye in children. The underlying cause could include refractive errors, strabismus, cataracts, or other eye disorders.

At What Age Is Lazy Eye Treated?

The treatment of lazy eye in children was earlier considered effective up to the age of seven years. However, a recent study suggests that amblyopia can be treated in children up to 17 years of age.

The study included children between the ages of seven and 17 years. The study made the following main observations.

  • 53% of children between the ages of seven and 12 years showed improved vision after the treatment.
  • 47% of children between the ages of 13 and 17 years gained improved eyesight after the treatment.

Treatment For Lazy Eye In Children

The treatment for amblyopia depends on the underlying cause. The correction strategy primarily relies on making the brain use the weaker eye more effectively. The following are the various treatment options for lazy eye in children (2) (5) (6) (7).

1. Eye patches

The doctor may put a stick-on eye patch on the child’s stronger eye so that the brain uses the weaker eye for vision. It gradually strengthens the vision from the weaker eye. Some children may have to wear the eye patch for a few hours a day, while others may require it for the entire day. The treatment may last for a few weeks to years.

2. Glasses

These are commonly used in correcting refractive errors, such as nearsightedness and farsightedness. Glasses may also be used in the correction of lazy eye due to strabismus.

3. Eye drops

Special eye drops could blur the stronger eye’s vision, forcing the brain to use the weaker eye. This option can help treat lazy eye in young children who may peel off the eye patch when parents are not around.

4. Surgery

Surgical treatments might be considered if lazy eye is due to strabismus or cataracts. Certain eye disorders, such as some refractive errors, could be cured with surgery. The type of surgery can vary based on the underlying cause.

3. Vision exercises and therapy

These can be used in combination with other treatment methods for strengthening the eye muscles and improving vision development. Vision therapy treatment includes:

  • Spatial skills involving eye-hand coordination
  • Accommodation for focusing
  • Fixation (visual gaze)
  • Saccades (eye jumps)
  • Pursuits involving eye-tracking
  • Binocular vision for making the eyes work together

These treatment options may improve the child’s vision in a few weeks to months, depending on the severity of the child’s amblyopia. Your child may have to continue with follow-up treatment to prevent the recurrence of lazy eye at a later age.

What Can Parents Do?

You can take the following steps to improve your child’s vision and keep their eyes healthy.

  1. Eye care: Take your child for regular eye exams. Make sure not to miss follow-up visits.
  1. Continue with the treatment: Although your child may resist wearing eye patch or glasses, encourage them to do so with positive reinforcement. Teach them why it is important.
  1. Do activities to strengthen the eye: You may try doing puzzles or reading together. Parental involvement will encourage the child to try these activities. You can speak to an ophthalmologist to learn activities that can work to strengthen the vision of the affected eye.

Amblyopia is a common eye disorder of childhood, and most of its causes can be cured effectively. Early diagnosis can help in the early cure, while leaving amblyopia untreated may increase the risk of vision loss in the affected eye. As your child grows older and begins to read, you are likely to spot any signs easily. Consult an ophthalmologist if you suspect your child has lazy eye or any other problem with their eyes.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Amblyopia (Lazy Eye): Overview; Cleveland Clinic
2. Amblyopia (Lazy Eye); National Eye Institute
3. Kierstan Boyd, Amblyopia: Lazy Eye Diagnosis & Treatment; American Academy of Ophthalmology
4. Amblyopia (Lazy Eye): Diagnosis and tests; Cleveland Clinic
5. Amblyopia (Lazy Eye): Management & treatment; Cleveland Clinic
6. How is lazy eye treated?; Optometrists Network
7. Mitchell Scheiman et al., Randomized trial of treatment of amblyopia in children aged 7 to 17 years; Archives of Ophthalmology

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Dr. Ritika Shah

Dr. Ritika Shah is a dental surgeon with more than seven years of clinical experience across various cities in India. During her clinical practice, pediatric dentistry was her particular area of interest, and she constantly thrived to inculcate the latest advancements in the field of dentistry into her practice. Dr. Shah's deep interest in the well-being of babies and children... more