What prompted a mother to write this Huffington Post article stating she “failed” her daughter? She never took her daughter for eye exams, and therefore never realized that her vision was being crippled by amblyopia. Now, she’s encouraging other parents to learn from her mistake.
Amblyopia, commonly known as “lazy eye,” is a condition where one or both eyes cannot see clearly, even with the assistance of glasses. While many people with amblyopia can function at a relatively high level, the condition also comes with some serious limitations.
Fortunately, this story has a relatively happy ending, at least for now. The mother engaged her daughter in patching therapy (we’ll discuss this later) and got her strong prescription lenses. She says her daughter’s vision has since improved by “leaps and bounds.”
We’re always excited to see parents raise awareness of amblyopia and the importance of regular eye exams. And although we’re pleased that patching helped in this case, we’d like to take it one step further by recommending the addition of vision therapy.
Before getting too ahead of ourselves, let’s take a look at what amblyopia is and why it can be so difficult to spot.
‘She Never Showed any Signs of a Vision Problem’
One of the toughest things about identifying amblyopia is that afflicted children can still function at a relatively high level.
Such was the case for the author’s daughter who, despite having very poor eyesight in one eye, never showed any symptoms of a vision problem. She was learning to read at grade level, played sports well, and never complained about fuzzy or out-of-focus vision.
However, as the author states, the reason why her daughter never complained is simple: She didn’t know any better. After all, it’s the vision with which she had grown up - to her it seemed normal.
So how could someone function normally while having very poor vision in one eye? For that, we’ll need to take a deeper look at what amblyopia is and how the brain adapts to it.
Understanding Amblyopia and its Hidden Symptoms
The brain is an incredibly adaptive organ. This proves to be especially true in children with amblyopia.
Imagine you suddenly have very poor sight in one eye. What would you do? The obvious answer is that you’d start depending on your other eye for vision. Well, that’s exactly how the brain reacts in amblyopes.
Amblyopia can result when a child’s brain uses their two eyes very differently. This can lead to poor visual acuity (blurry vision) in one of their eyes. To compensate, the eye with better acuity processes the more detailed visual information during development.
As a result, the blurry eye never learns to perceive fine detail. In time, the brain suppresses detailed information in the poorer seeing eye altogether, depending solely on the eye with clearer sight for vision.
Although this may seem like a nifty compensation technique, it’s far from perfect.
People require good vision in both eyes to perceive depth and see the world in perfect 3D. Because of this, suppressing information from one eye can create poor depth perception and spatial awareness, which can lead to clumsiness, difficulty in sports, and problems in school.
Young children learn and develop the ability to use their two eyes together as a team, called binocular vision. When amblyopia develops, it is a sign that the development of binocular vision is not progressing as it should.
However, children are highly adaptive. As with the author’s daughter, children can learn to circumvent or adapt to their vision problems, especially when they grow up with them.
For this reason, a child’s amblyopia may go unnoticed until adulthood. It’s why, as the author points out, receiving comprehensive eye exams is crucial for identifying the condition in younger children. Furthermore, the earlier you catch it, the easier it is to fix with vision therapy.
Integrating Patching into Vision Therapy to Maximize Results
We’re glad the author’s daughter was able to improve her vision with patching. However, we suspect that by relying solely on this method, she could face problems down the road.
Patching works by applying a patch over the better seeing eye for between 2 and 6 hours per day. This forces the brain to use the only other eye available - the amblyopic eye. Although patching often succeeds in improving the vision in the amblyopic eye, it may not provide a permanent solution.
Why? Because patching alone ignores the root problem of amblyopia, which is that the eyes are not working together. This fact doesn’t change after the patch is removed. Eventually, the brain may digress to its state of poor binocular vision.
Combining patch therapy with vision therapy solves this problem. Vision therapy uses exercises and activities to train binocular vision, improving your entire vision processing system for the long haul.
For parents who have never heard of amblyopia, it’s understandable they would never suspect it affecting their child. Consider yourself informed. Regularly schedule eye exams for your child and, if it turns out they have amblyopia, seek vision therapy for a permanent and effective solution.