amblyopia - Faq

What is amblyopia?

Amblyopia is a decrease in vision, known as vision acuity, caused by abnormal visual development early in a child’s life. Amblyopia is also known as a lazy eye, where one eye does not see as well as the other eye. Some causes of amblyopia include crossed eyes, known as strabismic amblyopia, unequal focus between eyes, known as refractive amblyopia, or structure abnormalities of the eye such as congenital cataracts. Amblyopia is most commonly unilateral, but both eyes may be affected.

What are risk factors for amblyopia?

Amblyopia is the most common cause of decreased visual acuity in children, occurring in one to four percent of children. It typically presents itself when children are between three to five years of age, and occurs equally in boys and girls. The most common cause of amblyopia is crossed eyes (strabismus), because each eye sees and sends a different image to the brain. To compensate for different images, the brain ignores the images coming from one eye, and the ignored eye becomes weaker and weaker over time. Prematurity, small size for fetal age, first-degree relative with amblyopia, neurodevelopmental delay, and drooping of the eyelids known as ptosis have been shown to increase the risk of amblyopia.

Why is it important to detect amblyopia early?

There is a time during an infant’s development known as the critical period, which is a period of visual maturation when the visual system is affected by outside influences. These influences are critical to the development of normal vision, which reaches the adult level by age three to five years of age. If visual development during this critical period is impaired, the prevalence and severity of amblyopia is increased. Amblyopia is most responsive to treatment when initiated before seven years of age, although all children should be treated regardless of age.

What should I do as a parent or caregiver for my child?

Screening for visual acuity and a basic eye exam at ages three, four and five years during your child’s regular health maintenance appointments has been shown to detect amblyopia earlier and improve the prognosis for normal eye development. If your child’s visual acuity or eye exam is found to be abnormal, your pediatrician will refer your child to an ophthalmologist for further evaluation.

How is amblyopia treated?

Treatment depends on the cause of your child’s amblyopia. Treatment may include prescribing eyeglasses to improve visual acuity, patching the better-seeing eye, using eye drops to blur the vision of the better-seeing eye, or rarely undergoing surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

What are the psychosocial consequences of amblyopia?

It is unclear whether amblyopia has any long-term psychosocial consequences, although in the short-term, a small survey of 25 patients indicated that approximately 50 percent of patients with a history of amblyopia reported an interference with schooling, work or lifestyle. However, in a large population-based study with 3,318 young children, general health-related quality of life revealed no difference between children with and without amblyopia.