We may take our eyes as a given but we should not take good vision for granted, especially when it comes to our kids. Amblyopia is one such vision development disorder that we need to keep an eye out for. Also known as “lazy eye”, amblyopia in most cases develops from birth until seven years and usually affects one eye, although in some cases it can occur in both eyes. The important part to note in all this is that a lazy eye can be treated in order to prevent permanent loss of vision, but early detection is key. Find out what signs and symptoms to look out for so you can seek help from an eye specialist if necessary.
What Causes It?
As kids are growing, the brain is working in harmony with the eyes to recognize the images that are seen. When these images are blurred as is the case in amblyopia, it prevents the brain from receiving strong connections and can even lead to poor grades and clumsiness down the road. One of the causes is strabismus where one or both eyes wander inward or outward causing one eye to become dominant and maintain a normal vision strength while forcing the other eye to lose its connection with the brain. In many cases, anatomical or structural problems, such as droopy eyelids or cataracts block vision, while in others, severe far-sightedness, near-sightedness and astigmatism are the culprits of blurry images being sent to the brain. Parents who have even a slight suspicion that their baby or young child has crossed eyes or a misalignment of the eyes can confirm this by conducting a simple screening test at home. If your child is a bit older, inform them of your intention to run a little test while they engage in a visual task. Once the child is comfortable, try covering each eye individually. If the child complains about blurred vision when you cover the right eye, it can be a sign that the left eye is amblyopic. While this home screening test is recommended as a guide, it should not be seen as a replacement for a comprehensive eye exam by a qualified eye doctor.
How Can You Treat It?
Once detected and diagnosed, it is imperative to start treatment as soon as possible. This is especially true for younger children because at this early stage the eye and brain are forming important connections. Depending on the type of amblyopia, there are various different treatment methods available. Preemptive measures include being prescribed contact or eyeglasses to correct refractive errors so the brain can once again begin receiving clear and focused images. Another solution is to get your kids to wear an eyepatch over the affected eye so it can end up stimulating the weaker eye. Not all kids will wear an eyepatch easily and that’s ok because you can also ask the ophthalmologist to prescribe atropine drops which blur out the vision in the strong eye and force the brain to recognize the images from the weaker eye. Surgery only becomes an option in cases where either strabismus is the cause of amblyopia or where a droopy eyelid or cataract is present. This minimally invasive surgery involves tightening one or more of the eye muscles to adjust the position of the eye or eyes. Since the procedure is done under anesthesia, your child will not feel any pain throughout – just make sure to follow the rules for eating and drinking prior to the surgery. A pediatric anesthesiologist will give the proper dosage for your child to remain sleeping through the operation usually lasting anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours depending on the complications. Your child may be required to wear an eyepatch over the operated eye(s) for a short period of time. Look out for any unusual symptoms post-surgery and be sure to follow-up with the surgeon as required. Two to three weeks after surgery, when your child’s brain begins catching up with the images it’s receiving, the blurry vision should begin improving.
With young patients being diagnosed earlier than in previous generations and viable treatment options becoming more available, dealing with amblyopia no longer has to seem like a daunting task.