Easier Treatment of "Lazy Eye"

By Ellen Kuwana
Neuroscience for Kids Staff Writer
March 28, 2002

Proper development of the eye-to-brain connections requires adequate visual input to both eyes. In some young children, one eye is weaker than the other. This condition is called amblyopia, from the Greek for "dim-sighted." Sometimes called "lazy eye," amblyopia is a common cause of vision impairment in children. Fortunately, treatment is highly effective in children under the age of eight years. Doctors often recommend that an eye patch be put over the child's stronger eye to treat amblyopia. The eye patch forces the weaker eye to do all the work and thus catch up developmentally. Most children, however, do not like to wear an eye patch and may not follow a doctor's instructions to wear one.

Amblyopia can also be treated with special eye drops to blur the vision in the strong eye instead of blocking the vision with an eye patch. The eye drops are easy to use: parents simply administer the drop in the morning, and they do not need to monitor the child for the rest of the day.

A study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology (March 2002) has shown that the painless eye drops that blur the vision of the stronger eye work just as well as the eye patch to help the weaker eye develop. For comparison in the study, 419 children under the age of 7 years were randomly assigned to treatment by eye patch or by eye drops. The improvement in vision was measured for each treatment option after six months and both methods were found to be equally effective in correcting amblyopia. However, more parents preferred the eye drop treatment over the eye patch method because of the challenges involved in getting young children to wear an eye patch.

Because both treatments work, doctors and families can decide which one is best for each child. The important step is getting help: the younger the child is when he or she gets treatment, the better the chance of reversing the vision loss.

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Reference and more information about amblyopia:

  1. Roy W. Beck, Eileen E. Birch, Stephen R. Cole, Donald F. Everett, Richard W. Hertle, Jonathan M. Holmes, Raymond T. Kraker, Michael X. Repka, A Randomized Trial of Atropine vs Patching for Treatment of Moderate Amblyopia in Children, Archives of Ophthalmology, 120:268-278, 2002.
  2. Amblyopia - National Eye Institute
  3. Prevent Blindness America FAQ

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