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Eye Specialists of Westchester

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Amblyopia

Amblyopia is an eye problem that causes poor vision in children. Often referred to as ‘lazy eye’, this vision problem is the leading cause of decreased vision in children. Amblyopia usually affects one eye but can reduce vision in both eyes. Problems begin when the pathways that carry vision messages from one of the eyes to the brain do not grow strong enough. The brain then favors the other eye, and vision does not develop normally. The brain and eyes must work together to produce clear vision. If the brain favors one eye, usually due to poor vision in the other eye, the weaker eye tends to wander inward or outward. Amblyopia is common in that it affects two or three out of every 100 people. The best time to correct amblyopia is during infancy or early childhood. After the first nine years of life, the visual system is normally fully developed and usually cannot be changed.

Causes

Amblyopia may be caused by any condition that affects normal visual development or use of the eyes. Amblyopia can be caused by strabismus, an imbalance or misalignment of the child’s eyes; extreme nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism in one eye; droopy eyelid; and occasionally by a cataract. In these cases, one eye becomes stronger and suppresses the images of the other eye. The weaker eye may become useless if this persists.

Diagnosis

Unless the child has a misaligned eye or other obvious abnormality, there is often no way for parents to tell that their child has amblyopia. A child may not be aware of having one strong eye and one weak eye. Amblyopia is detected by finding a difference in vision between the two eyes or poor vision in both eyes. Dr. Scharf or Dr. Donev will also carefully examine the interior of the eye to see if other eye diseases may be causing decreased vision, such as: cataracts, inflammation, tumors or other disorders of the inner eye.

Treatment

Early detection and treatment is the most effective way to save the vision in the affected eye. There are various treatments for amblyopia. Glasses or contact lenses will fix some problems. Surgery may be needed for cataracts, droopy eyelids or crossed eyes. The child will need to use the weaker eye most of the time so that it will get stronger. The most common and effective treatment for amblyopia is to cover or patch the eye with the normal vision. This can be done for all or part of the day for a period of time until the vision in the weaker eye matches that of the normal eye.

It is recommended that all children have their vision checked by their pediatrician, family physician, or ophthalmologist at or before their fourth birthday. Most physicians test vision as part of a child’s medical examination. They may refer a child to an ophthalmologist if there is any sign of eye problems.