Straight, No Chaser: Questions about "Lazy Eye" (Amblyopia)
We all get concerned when it comes to things that damage or put our vision in danger. As such, you should be aware of the most common condition causing visual problems in children. You know it as lazy eye, but the medical term is amblyopia. This occurs in approximately 2 to 3 of every 100 children. Unfortunately, the issue isn’t just its occurrence in children but its persistence into adulthood. Amblyopia is also the most common cause of visual impairment among young and middle-aged adults affecting one eye.
Here are some questions and answers of concern. These may help you understand some terms your ophthalmologist (eye doctor) or optometrist uses with you.
What exactly is lazy eye?
Amblyopia (aka lazy eye) is the condition that exists when the vision of one eye is reduced due to that eye not working appropriately with the brain. The brain adjusts by favoring the other eye.
Let’s get medical for a moment. Appropriate eye function requires accurate interaction between the eyes and the portions of the brain necessary for vision. Each eye focuses light on the retina, which is located in the back of the eye. Cells within the retina stimulate nerve signals that travel along the optic (eye) nerves to the brain, which interpret and responds to these signals.
What are some common causes of this?
As noted, the correct function and interaction between the eyes and brain are necessary. Many things can go wrong along the way, all of which serve to cause unclear focusing. Here are some examples.
- Strabismus: misalignment of the eyes
- Cataracts: clouding of the front part of the eye
- Nearsightedness (myopia; better focus on closer objects) results from the eye being too long from front to back.
- Farsightedness (hyperopia; better focus on objects at a distance) results from the eye being too short from front to back.
- Astigmatism: condition associated with irregularly shaped eyes; produces difficulty focusing on both near and far objects
How is lazy eye treated?
Most of the focus on treating amblyopia involves catching it early and treating the child. It is during this time that the eye, the brain and the connections between them are developing, and the opportunity for improvement is greatest. Generally speaking, treatment involves forcing the child to use the eye with weaker vision. There are two common ways to treat lazy eye:
- Patching: Placing an adhesive patch on the stronger eye for weeks to months forces the brain/eye apparatus to use the affected eye. This stimulates more complete development of the needed areas in the brain and eye.
- Atropine: Using this eye medication causes blurring in the strong eye, forcing use of the affected eye. This works as well as patching.
Is this the same as eye drooping or lid lag?
No. “Lazy” eyelids (aka ptosis) are not the same as malfunctioning eyes. Lazy eye refers to the latter. That said, the two are not mutually exclusive.
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