Amblyopia, commonly known as "lazy eye", is a visual disorder affecting as many as 2 or 3 percent of children under the age of six. Children with amblyopia experience significant vision loss in one eye, causing a loss of stereoscopic vision and possible blindness in the affected eye. It is not a condition that can be treated with eyeglasses or other traditional corrective methods. Amblyopic children may have two relatively healthy eyes, but the connection between one of those eyes and the brain did not fully develop during early childhood.
Many people mistake the symptoms of amblyopia with another disorder called strabismus (an involuntary crossing of the eyes). If a child has a form of strabismus in which one eye remains misaligned continuously, then he or she could also develop amblyopia as a result. But many amblyopic children have normal eye alignments, so parents and family practitioners may not recognize all of the symptoms. Only an examination by a qualified pediatric eye doctor can reveal the presence of true amblyopia.
Treatment of amblyopia depends on the age of the patient and the severity of the affliction. Since the unaffected eye becomes so dominant, most treatment programs involve forcing the other eye to take over the visual chores for a while. Amblyopic children may have to wear patches over the dominant eye or use atropine drops to cause blurriness. These methods force the affected eye to strengthen its connection with the visual cortex. Sometimes surgery may be performed to correct strabismus, but amblyopic symptoms may continue without therapy.
If the affected eye does restrengthen its connection with the brain's visual cortex, then the child can be fitted for prescription glasses if necessary. One common cause of amblyopia is a significant difference in the visual acuity of each eye. The brain chooses to process information from the eye with the least amount of distortion. Treatment of amblyopia in older children or adults has not always been as successful, since the brain becomes very comfortable with the images produced by the 'good eye' over time. Early diagnosis and treatment, therefore, is very important for the child and his or her parents.