Commonly called “lazy eye,” amblyopia occurs when clear eyesight fails to develop in one or both eyes, even with glasses and in the absence of disease.
While poor eyesight is often the most obvious problem, the underlying problem is poorly developed binocular vision. Binocular vision occurs when both eyes see similarly, and the brain can easily combine images produced by each eye into a single, 3D image.
When the brain cannot effectively combine the two images, it suppresses, or “turns off” the image from one eye. The result can be poor eyesight in that eye.
This poorer eyesight in one eye is called amblyopia when it cannot be improved with glasses and is not caused by disease.
Symptoms: Detecting Amblyopia, or “Lazy Eye,” can be Difficult
According to the American Optometric Association, amblyopia affects 2 to 4 percent of children and is a leading cause of childhood vision loss.
Amblyopia often begins in infancy and can be challenging to identify outside of a comprehensive eye exam. Children with amblyopia may not even realize their vision is functioning abnormally because they have no frame of reference to judge their vision against.
Simple observation alone is usually not enough to detect amblyopia. That said, there can be a handful of possible indicators.
Trouble With Depth Perception
Since amblyopia prevents or greatly impairs binocular depth perception, children with the condition can:
- Have pronounced difficulty catching objects
- Seem clumsy and frequently bump into objects, walls and other people
- Misjudge the proximity of another person when conversing
Difficulty in School
Amblyopia can affect children’s school performance, causing them to:
- Struggle when identifying letters and learning to read
- Read more slowly than normal
- Have delayed focus when looking up at the board
Abnormal Eye Appearance
A commonly used lay term for amblyopia, lazy eye, inaccurately labels the eye as lazy and has the connotation that the eye turns or ‘wanders.’
While a person can have amblyopia as a result of strabismus (the medical term for an eye turn) not all cases of amblyopia involve strabismus.
We also know that the amblyopic eye is not ‘lazy’ because people of all ages are able to improve how they see with that eye.
Diagnosis: Definitively Identifying Amblyopia is Possible
Amblyopia is easily detected with a Functional Eye Exam, which is why it’s extremely important for children to be seen for an exam from the first year of life onward.
If a child is not seen and tested regularly, it’s possible that a child can go for years before anyone detects amblyopia. That’s because the child has no frame of reference to compare their eyesight.
They assume that everyone sees the world as they do, even though amblyopia may be affecting their vision. There’s no way they can compare a properly functioning visual system to their own.
Treatment: Ways to Treat Amblyopia Have Improved
Conventional methods to treat amblyopia include prescribing glasses and then “patching,” or covering, the non-amblyopic eye to improve the eyesight in the amblyopic eye.
However, this does not address the underlying problem of poorly developed binocular vision. It’s no surprise, then, that studies have shown that combining vision therapy with patching is a more effective treatment for amblyopia in children and adults than just patching alone.
While patching can be effective in improving a person’s eyesight (and there is a difference between eyesight and vision), it’s only addressing a small part of the much larger problem: poor development of binocular vision.
Vision therapy addresses the larger problem by training the brain to use both eyes in order to develop healthy, binocular vision.
Contact The Vision Therapy Center if you’re interested in scheduling a Functional Vision Test.