Amblyopia in Children

Amblyopia (Lazy Eye) and its Roots

Amblyopia is a condition in which the brain does not fully recognize or acknowledge the images sent to it by the amblyopic eye.  This results in a weakening of that eye over time and a reduction in its clarity of vision, eventually culminating in possible blindness.(1)  Amblyopia can be caused by anything that interferes with vision for a significant amount of time during the critical period from birth to about 6 years of age.  Once one eye becomes weaker, the brain may block or suppress the images sent by that eye and favor the clearer eye.(2)

Early Detection

If it is not detected early enough in life, amblyopia can cause a permanent loss of vision and depth perception.  Although a motivated patient with proper treatment can improve his or her vision at any age, the amount of improvement that is possible decreases drastically as a person ages.(3)(4)  Unfortunately, amblyopia can be difficult to detect if it is not accompanied by strabismus (a crossed or turned eye).  Although the two can co-occur, amblyopia can be far more subtle and difficult to detect by parents or even pediatricians if they are not fully-trained ophthalmologists. 

Possible symptoms of amblyopia include:(5)

Factors that put a child at higher risk of amblyopia include:

Watching for these signs (and paying attention to them if they present themselves) is an important part of helping children avoid the larger complications caused by amblyopia later in life.  A child is never too young to have an eye exam by an ophthalmologist, and an eye exam can detect amblyopia in its earliest stages and give the child the best possible chance for healthy sight.

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Footnotes

(1) All About Amblyopia (lazy eye).  Optometrists Network Accessed 6/26/09 <http://www.lazyeye.org/>

(2) Cooper, J, Cooper, R. All About Amblyopia. Optometrists Network, Strabismus. 2001-2005.

(3) Birnbaum MH, Koslowe K, Sanet R. Success in amblyopia therapy as a function of age: a literature review. Am J Optom Phys Optometry 1977; 54:269-275.

(4) Wick B, Wingard M, Cotter S, Scheiman M. Anisometropic amblyopia: is the patient ever too old to treat?, Optom Vis Sci. 1992 Nov;69(11):866-78.

(5) Amblyopia: Topic Overview CIGNA Health and Money.  Accessed 6/26/09 <http://www.cigna.com/healthinfo/hw152224.html>