What is amblyopia?

Amblyopia

Amblyopia, commonly called "lazy eye," is an eye condition in which one eye is not used enough for the visual system in the brain to develop properly. If one eye is weak, the brain ignores the images from it and uses only the images from the stronger eye, leading to poor vision in the weak eye.

Amblyopia usually affects only one eye, but it may occur in both eyes. Children can develop amblyopia between birth and about 7 years of age.

Amblyopia can be hard to detect. A child with amblyopia may have one eye that wanders or does not move with the other eye.

Amblyopia may develop if a child is much more nearsighted or farsighted in one eye than in the other. Extreme nearsightedness or farsightedness in both eyes may lead to amblyopia. Cloudiness in the black center of the eye or a droopy upper eyelid also can lead to amblyopia.

Normal vision develops with regular, equal use of the eyes. Treatment for amblyopia includes patching the stronger eye to force the weaker eye to develop better vision. Early treatment can usually reverse the condition.

What are the symptoms of amblyopia?

In most cases, amblyopia does not cause symptoms. But your child may:

  • Have an eye that wanders or does not move with the other eye.
  • Have eyes that do not move in the same direction or fix on the same point.
  • Cry or complain when one eye is covered.
  • Squint or tilt the head to look at something.
  • Have an upper eyelid that droops.

How is amblyopia in children treated?

For amblyopia to be treated, your child must use the weak eye. This will force the eye to get stronger. Over time this corrects the vision in the weak eye.

Your doctor may suggest:

  • Blocking the strong eye with an eye patch.
  • Blurring the strong eye with eyedrops or glasses.

Your child may have to wear the patch or glasses most of the day or for just part of each day. Treatment may last for a few weeks or months. Severe cases may take longer.

If another problem is causing the amblyopia, such as a cataract, it also needs to be treated.

Treatment is best started before age 6 and should begin before your child's vision has fully developed, around age 9 or 10.

After treatment ends, be sure to set up follow-up eye exams for your child. Amblyopia can return even after successful treatment.

How is amblyopia in children diagnosed?

Your child's doctor will do an eye exam. If the exam shows that your child has poor vision in one eye, the doctor may diagnose amblyopia after ruling out other causes. To help make the diagnosis, the doctor may ask about symptoms, family history, and your child's birth weight.

How can you care for your child who has amblyopia?

Support your child by telling them that treatment will help their vision get better. Follow your doctor's instructions for using the eye patch, glasses, or eye drops. Do activities that involve coloring and reading to make your child use their weaker eye. They can also decorate their patch to make it more fun.

What causes amblyopia in children?

Any condition that prevents your child's eyes from forming a clear, focused image or that prevents the normal use of one or both eyes can cause amblyopia. It may happen when:

  • The eyes do not focus on the same object. This is called strabismus. When this happens, the brain chooses to receive the images from only one eye.
  • Your child is much more nearsighted or farsighted in one eye than in the other. If one eye sees much more clearly than the other, the brain ignores the image from the weaker eye.
  • A problem prevents light from entering the eye for a long period of time. A problem in the lens, such as a cataract, or in the clear "window" at the front of the eye (the cornea) may cause amblyopia.
  • Someone else in your family had it or if your child had a premature birth or low birth weight.

What is amblyopia in children?

Amblyopia is a childhood problem that happens when one eye is weaker than the other. The brain chooses to take in images only from the stronger eye. If the weak eye doesn't have to work, it isn't able to develop good vision. This leads to poor vision in the weaker eye.

How can you help your child during treatment for amblyopia?

Treatment sounds simple, but using an eye patch or glasses may bother your child. To help your child:

  • Explain that the glasses or patch will help his or her vision get better.
  • Tell your child's friends, teachers, coaches, and others about the eye problem and what you and your child have to do for it. Ask for their help.
  • Use the patch, glasses, or eyedrops as your doctor says.
  • If possible, decorate the patch with your child. First, ask your doctor if it's okay.
  • Do fun things, such as coloring and crafts, when your child is wearing the patch or glasses. This will help your child use the weak eye.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.