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Amblyopia

Amblyopia is a vision disorder that causes an eye to not be able to see clearly. It cannot be corrected with prescription eyewear. Symptoms normally begin to manifest during infancy and continue into childhood. Amblyopia normally affects one eye but can affect both. Roughly 5% of Americans suffer from some form of Amblyopia, but it is very treatable if caught early on in its progression. Amblyopia is often referred to as “lazy eye.”

 

There are three main types of amblyopia. The first is strabismic amblyopia. This is the most common and is caused by strabismus, or de-alignment of the eye. Amblyopia and strabismus are frequently confused; amblyopia is the condition that results from strabismus. The brain ignores the image created by the de-aligned eye, leading to blurred vision.

 

In some cases, amblyopia is caused from refractive errors. When one eye has a severe refractive error (nearsightedness, farsightedness, etc.) and the other does not, the brain may ignore the image coming from the affected eye. The eye becomes “turned off” and becomes weak and does not develop properly. This type of amblyopia is called refractive or anisometropic amblyopia.

 

The final type is called deprivation amblyopia. This occurs when light does not enter the eye completely due to a physical barrier. The most common scenario is when a baby has a congenital cataract.

 

All of these types, in most cases, can be treated in some way. Strabismic amblyopia can be treated by strabismus surgery, which involves operating on the muscles of the eye to straighten them. This is normally followed by wearing an eye patch and participating in orthoptics , or vision therapy. In less severe cases, only using an eye patch may be necessary instead of surgery. In both cases, special contacts can be worn that block light from entering; this is purely a cosmetic choice.

 

Refractive amblyopia is usually the easier condition to treat. In most cases corrective eyewear is all that is needed. Sometimes an eye patch over the unaffected eye is needed in order to force the brain to pick up the visual image of the amblyopic eye.

 

In both refractive and strabismic cases, atropine eye drops can be used. These blur the vision in the unaffected eye and force the amblyopic eye to strengthen itself. This is a relatively new treatment, but many doctors are turning to eye drops as opposed to patches. The drops do have their side effects, including sensitivity to light while in use and possible paralysis of certain eye muscles after long term use.

 

Amblyopia is usually only treatable during pre-pubescence. Until recently there really wasn’t any effort put into to treating amblyopia past the age of 8. Now visual therapy is utilizing computer programs to train eyes of all ages to work as a team. This therapy is still in the early stages of development and it is still better to catch amblyopia during youth. It is important to have a child take their first eye exam at 6 months, and periodically throughout childhood.