Amblyopia refers to poor vision in an eye that didn’t develop properly during childhood. Amblyopia is often referred to as “lazy eye.” Usually this occurs if one eye is favored for a number of reasons. The eye that is less preferred will become amblyopic. It is possible to have amblyopia in both eyes, though this is less common.
The critical stage of vision development occurs from infancy to roughly seven years of age. During this time, if there is any impediment to proper vision development, amblyopia can occur. This can be secondary to unequal focus between the two eyes, meaning one eye is more out of focus due to nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism. Very high nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism in both eyes can lead to amblyopia in bilaterally. Amblyopia can also be caused by strabismus, which is when one eye tends to turn inward or outward. Less commonly, pathology of the eye can cause amblyopia, such as a congenital cataract or eyelid droop that is severe enough to interfere with vision. Amblyopia is a very common condition, and can often be corrected if caught in early childhood.
Amblyopia is not always an obvious diagnosis. If there is no eye turn present, parents will not notice anything abnormal about the appearance of a child’s eyes. Fortunately, it is fairly easy to diagnose with a dilated eye examination. It is treated with patching of the good eye, which forces the child to use the weaker eye. It usually takes weeks or months to correct the vision. Glasses will likely be prescribed for children with amblyopia to improve any visual deficit, though glasses alone won’t typically resolve amblyopia. At times, surgery may be necessary to correct an underlying problem, like strabismus, droopy lid, or cataract. The success of amblyopia treatment depends on how severe it is, how old the child is at diagnosis, and how compliant the child/parents are with treatment. The consequences of amblyopia longterm are poor depth perception, lifelong poor vision in the amblyopic eye, and increased risk of injury or disease to the remaining good eye.