Lazy eye, also known as amblyopia, is a common cause of vision problems in young children. It occurs when one eye has better vision than the other, which causes the brain to favour the strong eye and ignore images being sent from the weak eye. This leads to impaired vision, and the lazy eye can wander in the eye socket instead of focusing on the same thing the strong eye is looking at. Here's what you need to know about lazy eye in children:
There's not always an identifiable cause for lazy eye in children, but your child can develop the condition as a result of any of the following:
- Family history
- Trauma to one of the eyes
- Vitamin A deficiency
- A drooping eyelid
- Corneal scarring
Early symptoms of lazy eye include the following:
- Frequently bumping into things with one side of the body
- Poor perception of depth
- Double vision
An optometrist can diagnose lazy eye by checking whether each of your child's eyes can follow a light when the other eye is covered. The muscles of a lazy eye will become weak as it's not being used as much as the strong eye, so the eye then becomes unable to move quickly enough to follow a light that keeps moving around the periphery. The optometrist will also ask your child, if they are old enough, to identify letters and shapes on a chart with one eye covered. This can help determine the degree of vision loss that's occurred due to underuse of one eye. They will also use an ophthalmoscope, which is a handheld imaging device, to look at the interior structure of your child's eyes. This will allow them to check for underlying eye problems that could be causing your child's symptoms. For example, optic nerve damage could indicate glaucoma is in the early stages of development.
The aim of treatment is to correct your child's vision, strengthen the lazy eye and get your child's brain to start processing images from the eye that's being treated. Glasses with a stronger prescription in one lens can be used to correct lazy eye that has occurred due to astigmatism. Your child may be asked to wear an eye patch over the stronger eye, which will strengthen the muscles of the lazy eye and force the brain to start engaging with and accepting images from that eye. As an alternative to a patch, you may be asked to put eye drops in your child's strong eye a couple of times a day. The eye drops will cause a temporary clouding of vision, and the weak eye will then be used by the brain as the sole source of images. The optometrist may also show your child some exercises they can do every day to strengthen the muscles of their lazy eye.
If you have any concerns about the health of your child's eyes, schedule an eye exam with your optometrist as soon as possible.