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What is amblyopia?

Amblyopia is decreased vision in one or both eyes due to an abnormality in vision development during childhood. At birth the vision is very poor. The brain learns to see via neural pathway development. This allows the brain to process visual input provided by the eyes. If this process is interrupted, the vision does not develop normally and the brain learns to see blurry. Amblyopia causes decreased vision which is not improved with glasses in adulthood. If amblyopia is not detected and treated early, while the brain is still developing, it causes permanent decreased vision in adulthood.

What causes amblyopia?

Anything that disrupts normal vision development can cause amblyopia. The most common cause includes large uncorrected refractive error at a young age (astigmatism, myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness). This is called refractive amblyopia. Strabismus (eye misalignment) causes strabismic amblyopia. The brain learns to see using one eye and ignores the misaligned eye causing a decrease in vision. Structural problems within the eye cause a sensory amblyopia. Examples of this include cataract, corneal scars, ptosis (droopy lid), and many more.

What is Lazy Eye?

Lazy eye is a non-specific, non-medical description many people use to describe any problem with a child’s eyes or vision development. It is commonly used to describe strabismus (misalignment), amblyopia (poor vision), or ptosis (droopy eyelid).

What are the symptoms of amblyopia?

The most common symptom of amblyopia is having no symptoms at all. If amblyopia occurs in one eye, children naturally use the other eye and amblyopia goes unnoticed. Other symptoms that can occur include strabismus (eye misalignment), holding things close, or squinting to see. Vision screening at a young age is extremely important to catch amblyopia early as it commonly goes unnoticed by parents and caregivers.

How is amblyopia treated?

The first step is to treat the underlying cause. This includes:

  • Glasses to correct large refractive error
  • Surgery to remove a cataract, scar, or other structural problem within the eye
  • Correct strabismus

In addition, forcing the brain to use the eyes is often necessary once amblyopia starts. This is achieved via:

  • Patching: Placing a patch over the better seeing eye to force the brain to use the weaker eye.
  • Eye drops: Dilation drops that blur the vision in the better seeing eye and force the brain to use the weaker eye.

The treatment and therapy regimen will be different for each patient and tailored to the patient’s specific diagnosis.

Is there surgery to correct amblyopia?

Amblyopia is an underdevelopment of the brain visual pathways and there is no surgery available to directly improve poor vision caused by amblyopia. Surgery may be necessary to correct the underlying cause such as cataract removal or strabismus eye muscle surgery. Lasik surgery (refractive surgery in adulthood) does not correct amblyopia or improve vision once amblyopia occurs. Therefore it is imperative to catch amblyopia early and start treatment to allow the best chance to improve vision.