What is Amblyopia?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Amblyopia, commonly known as "lazy eye", is a visual disorder affecting as many as 2 or 3 percent of children under the age of six. Children with amblyopia experience significant vision loss in one eye, causing a loss of stereoscopic vision and possible blindness in the affected eye. It is not a condition that can be treated with eyeglasses or other traditional corrective methods. Amblyopic children may have two relatively healthy eyes, but the connection between one of those eyes and the brain did not fully develop during early childhood.

Anatomy of a healthy human eye.
Anatomy of a healthy human eye.

Many people mistake the symptoms of amblyopia with another disorder called strabismus (an involuntary crossing of the eyes). If a child has a form of strabismus in which one eye remains misaligned continuously, then he or she could also develop amblyopia as a result. But many amblyopic children have normal eye alignments, so parents and family practitioners may not recognize all of the symptoms. Only an examination by a qualified pediatric eye doctor can reveal the presence of true amblyopia.

Children with amblyopia experience significant vision loss in one eye.
Children with amblyopia experience significant vision loss in one eye.

Treatment of amblyopia depends on the age of the patient and the severity of the affliction. Since the unaffected eye becomes so dominant, most treatment programs involve forcing the other eye to take over the visual chores for a while. Amblyopic children may have to wear patches over the dominant eye or use atropine drops to cause blurriness. These methods force the affected eye to strengthen its connection with the visual cortex. Sometimes surgery may be performed to correct strabismus, but amblyopic symptoms may continue without therapy.

Amblyopia can cause blurred vision and other complications in the affected eye.
Amblyopia can cause blurred vision and other complications in the affected eye.

If the affected eye does restrengthen its connection with the brain's visual cortex, then the child can be fitted for prescription glasses if necessary. One common cause of amblyopia is a significant difference in the visual acuity of each eye. The brain chooses to process information from the eye with the least amount of distortion. Treatment of amblyopia in older children or adults has not always been as successful, since the brain becomes very comfortable with the images produced by the 'good eye' over time. Early diagnosis and treatment, therefore, is very important for the child and his or her parents.

Strabismus can make the eyes appear crossed or "lazy."
Strabismus can make the eyes appear crossed or "lazy."
The best treatment option for amblyopia depends upon the age of the patient and the severity of the problem.
The best treatment option for amblyopia depends upon the age of the patient and the severity of the problem.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments

anon81931

My daughter seems to have amblyopia.

She is eight years old and i have confirmed it with a specialist.

Can you please suggest to me what precautions should we take and what can we do so that she is cured as soon as possible?

Except for atropine and patching what else can we do? Also could you please tell me whether atropine is harmful for the human body? please help me. thank you

pollick

I would suggest consulting with an eye doctor in your area as soon as possible. Adults generally develop other vision problems besides amblyopia, so you may have another medical condition which mimics some of the symptoms of amblyopia. You certainly don't want to follow a treatment regimen for a condition you may not even have. Start with a thorough medical examination and proceed accordingly.

thecub

I think I have this problem with my left eye. I am an adult in my 50s and it has gotten progressively worse over the years. Any ideas to treat or resolve? Thank you

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