Lazy Eye in Childhood

Lazy eye (amblyopia) is decreased vision that results from abnormal visual development in infancy and early childhood (usually occurs before the age of eight) that is unrelated to any eye health problem. Although lazy eye usually affects only one eye, it can affect both eyes. Lazy eye is the leading cause of decreased vision among children, affecting approximately 2 to 4 out of every 100 children. The chance of lazy eye developing during adulthood is very small.

Lazy eye usually results from a failure to use both eyes together. It can be caused by the misalignment of the two eyes - a condition called strabismus (crossed-eyes). If there is a large enough difference in the degree of nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism between the two eyes and they can turn in (esotropia) or turn out (exotropia). Occasionally, lazy eye is caused by a clouding of the front part of the eye, a condition called cataract. Normally, the images sent by each eye to the brain are identical. When they differ too much, the brain learns to ignore the poor image sent by one eye and "sees" only with the good eye. The Vision in the lazy eye may continue to decrease if left untreated. The brain simply pays less and less attention to the images sent by the lazy eye. Eventually, the condition stabilizes and the eye becomes virtually unused.

A comprehensive eye examination can determine the presence of lazy eye. The earlier it is diagnosed, the greater the chance for a successful treatment and result.

Since lazy eye occurs only in one eye, the good eye takes over and the individual is generally unaware of the condition. That is why it is important to have your child's vision examined at about one to two years of age and again before he or she enters school.

Corrective lenses, prisms and/or contact lenses are often used to treat lazy eye. Covering or occluding the better eye, either part-time or full-time, may be used to stimulate vision in the lazy eye. In addition, a program of vision therapy may be prescribed to help improve vision function.

To maintain good vision throughout your life, routine eye checkup are of paramount importance. Most lazy eyes can be treated and prevented through regular evaluation in childhood itself.

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