What Is Amblyopia?

Very simply, Amblyopia, the medical term for lazy-eye, is a problem with visual acuity, or eyesight. Many people make the mistake of saying that a person who has a crossed or turned eye (strabismus) has a "lazy-eye," but lazy-eye (amblyopia) and strabismus are not the same condition.

Amblyopia is the lack of development of clear vision (acuity) in one or both eyes for reasons other than an eye health problem that cannot be improved with glasses alone. It is a problem with how the brain perceives and interprets the information coming from the amblyopic eye. It often leads to a suppression of the information coming from the amblyopic eye. There are three major types of amblyopia.

Types of Amblyopia

All three types of amblyopia result from suppression of vision in one or both eyes. The difference is in the root cause of the suppression.

Refractive Amblyopia

Refractive Amblyopia is also known as anisometropic amblyopia. This occurs when there is a high degree of nearsightedness or farsightedness in one or both eyes.

Strabismic Amblyopia

Strabismic Amblyopia is caused by a misalignment of the eyes. The weak eye is often suppressed to prevent double vision, or diplopia.

Deprivational Amblyopia

The least common type of Amblyopia is deprivational amblyopia, which is caused by a deprivation of vision in early childhood. This is often caused by congenital cataracts.

What Causes Amblyopia?

Amblyopia begins during infancy and early childhood.

The most common causes of amblyopia are:

  • constant strabismus (constant turn of one eye),
  • anisometropia (different vision/prescriptions in each eye),
  • and/or blockage of an eye due to trauma, lid droop, etc.

Of these, strabismus is the most common cause of amblyopia.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Amblyopia

Unlike strabismus, which is generally easy to spot, you can’t detect amblyopia with simple observation, as there are no visible signs.

Typical symptoms include:

  • Poor depth perception
  • Difficulty catching and throwing objects
  • Clumsiness
  • Squinting or shutting an eye
  • Head turn or tilt
  • Eye strain
  • Fatigue with near work

A clue that your child may have amblyopia is if he or she cries or fusses when you cover one eye.

Amblyopia is diagnosed during an eye examination. Since amblyopia usually occurs in one eye only, many parents and children may be unaware of the condition. Far too many parents don't know they need to take their infants and toddlers in for an early comprehensive vision examination by an optometrist and many children go undiagnosed.

Misconceptions about Amblyopia

People incorrectly apply the term "lazy eye" to both strabismus and amblyopia, which is why it is a bad phrase to use.

Patients are often told that amblyopia can only be treated until a certain age. This is outdated information. While early intervention is still ideal, it is never too late to treat amblyopia.

Another misconception is that the amblyopic eye is the "bad eye." While it doesn't have the same level of eyesight as the non-amblyopic eye, there may be other visual skills, such as localization, at which it is good.

Treatment for Amblyopia

Treatment for Amblyopia, the medical term for lazy-eye, may include a combination of prescription lenses, prisms, vision therapy and eye patching. In vision therapy, patients learn how to use the two eyes together, which helps prevent lazy eye from reoccurring. Modern treatment also includes the use of virtual reality software such as Vivid Vision.

References

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