Lazy eye, or amblyopia, is a condition that causes poor vision in one eye. As the brain begins to favour the vision of one eye, the other is likely to get worse.
The condition usually develops in early childhood (between the ages of 0 and 7), so it is useful to learn about how it is identified and its effect on children. In this article, we’ll provide a complete guide on lazy eye in kids to give you a starting point in understanding the condition and managing it in children.
The medical term for lazy eye is amblyopia.
Throughout early childhood, vision is developing and connections are forming between the eyes and the brain. When, for various reasons, vision is weaker in one eye the brain will naturally start to favour the other by limiting the visual information from the weaker eye. This affects the development of the eye’s anatomy and the way the child sees.
This development means that children with lazy eye will experience worsening vision. The condition is also common, affecting as many as 3 children out of 100. As such, diagnosing and treating it early is vital to safeguarding children’s vision.
Lazy eye has some common signs and symptoms that can help you spot it early on.
Children and babies with amblyopia will have better vision in one eye and this is often noticeable in their behaviour. You may see them:
Some of these signs may seem obvious, but lazy eye may initially have mild or invisible symptoms. This is why regular eye exams and following up on symptoms are vital to children’s eye care.
When the eyes focus in different ways or vision loss affects one eye more than the other, this can lead to lazy eyes.
Refractive errors like myopia (shortsightedness), presbyopia (longsightedness) and astigmatism can affect one eye more than the other. This will affect the way the eye develops and may contribute to amblyopia.
Strabismus occurs when the eyes are misaligned, meaning one points in one direction while the other may drift in another. In other words, both eyes cannot focus on the same object. The brain may compensate for this by ignoring the information from the drifting eye and this leads to amblyopia.
Cataracts refer to cloudiness in the eye’s lens. If present during childhood, they can contribute to a child developing lazy eye.
Droopy eyelids that obscure a child’s vision are also thought to contribute to amblyopia.
Family history of eye conditions, premature birth and low birth weight also make a child more likely to have amblyopia.
The condition is difficult to prevent in most cases, but early diagnosis is key to managing it and limiting its detrimental effects.
We’ve created a simple quiz to assess your potential for lazy eye in you or your child. These self-assessments can be a helpful tool, but should never substitute a diagnosis from a healthcare professional.
Answering yes to more than three of these questions when applied to you or your child is not a sure sign of a lazy eye diagnosis. However, it does indicate a possibility of an eye condition and investigating these symptoms with the help of an optometrist is advisable.
Caring for children with lazy eye requires a blend of support, management and treatment. Early diagnosis and prompt care can limit the effects of the condition and help support children’s development.
Corrective lenses are often a first step in treating amblyopia. They are used to treat underlying refractive errors like myopia and hyperopia that can cause lazy eye.
Eye patches are often used to cover the more effective eye for extended periods during the day. This may seem counterintuitive, but forces the brain to use signals from the weaker eye, which strengthens it.
Atropine Eye Drops are another common treatment option and alternative to the eye patch. They cause temporary blurring of the effective eye, helping the weaker eye to ‘catch up’ in the same way as the eye patch.
In some rare cases of amblyopia, surgery is a viable option; if it is caused by cataracts or other structural problems in the eye, for example. Strabismus can also be corrected by surgery of the eye muscles.
Some treatment options have side effects or downsides. For example, in rare cases, eye patch treatment can cause amblyopia to affect the healthy eye, though this can usually be reversed. Atropine eye drops also have side effects including light sensitivity and irritation. Surgery always comes with its own set of risks and is usually only considered when other treatment options have failed or in severe cases of the condition.
Finding the proper care and treatment plan for your child takes time and the help of healthcare professionals.
Looking after your child’s eye health can seem like a daunting task. As caregivers, it’s vital to learn the simple and effective steps to help you manage your child’s eye health, especially if they are living with vision loss or an eye condition.
General health is a vital part of eye health, even for babies and toddlers. Today, we know a lot more about how diet, exercise and time spent outdoors can help improve eye health.
Eating a balanced diet, rich in vitamins (especially A, C, E and Omega Fatty Acids), green leafy vegetables, citrus, carrots and fish is a great way to promote healthy eyes. This can help to prevent eye conditions and support healthy vision.
Exercise is important for general health and it is thought it may improve the health of blood vessels in the eyes. Many eye conditions are caused by issues with general health like diabetes and developing healthy exercise practices from a young age can minimise the risk of developing these conditions.
Spending time outdoors is also thought to improve eye health. Overuse of screens and other close-work tasks can lead to eye strain, which can have various knock-on effects, while time spent outdoors may reduce children’s risk of developing myopia. Creating limits when it comes to screen time and encouraging outdoor play and activities (with proper protection from the sun) can create a range of benefits for children’s eye health.
In addition to general health, parents should be conscious of eye care practices.
Regular eye exams are crucial to early diagnosis of eye conditions and vision loss, but also allow you to stay up-to-date on the best ways to care for your child’s eyes. Professional help from a trusted optometrist is a fundamental part of children’s eye care.
Managing eye care at home and supporting your child’s eye health throughout their education is another facet to consider. Alongside promoting general health, you can encourage your child to take regular breaks from screens, take steps to protect their eyes from the sun or other forms of damage, and provide useful advice like making sure they read or do homework in good light.
Children’s eye care is a big topic, but we hope these tips give you some things to consider when it comes to improving your child’s eye health.
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