Lazy eye (amblyopia) is reduced vision in one eye caused by abnormal visual development early in life. The weaker — or lazy — eye often wanders inward or outward.
Amblyopia generally develops from birth up to age 7 years. It is the leading cause of decreased vision among children. Rarely, lazy eye affects both eyes.
Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent long-term problems with your child’s vision. The eye with poorer vision can usually be corrected with glasses or contact lenses, or patching therapy.
What are the symptoms of amblyopia?
Symptoms of amblyopia can be hard to notice. Kids with amblyopia may have poor depth perception — they have trouble telling how near or far something is. Parents may also notice signs that their child is struggling to see clearly, like:
- Shutting 1 eye
- Tilting their head
In many cases, parents don’t know their child has amblyopia until a doctor diagnoses it during an eye exam. That’s why it’s important for all kids to get a vision screening at least once between ages 3 and 5.
Is my child at risk for amblyopia?
Some kids are born with amblyopia and others develop it later in childhood. The chances of having amblyopia are higher in kids who:
- Were born early (premature)
- Were smaller than average at birth
- Have a family history of amblyopia, childhood cataracts, or other eye conditions
- Have developmental disabilities
How will my child’s doctor check for amblyopia?
As part of a normal vision screening, your child’s doctor will look for signs of amblyopia. All kids ages 3 to 5 need to have their vision checked at least once.
What’s the treatment for amblyopia?
If there’s a vision problem causing amblyopia, the doctor may treat that first. For example, doctors may recommend glasses or contacts (for kids who are nearsighted or farsighted) or surgery (for kids with cataract).
The next step is to re-train the brain and force it to use the weaker eye. The more the brain uses it, the stronger it gets. Treatments include:
Wearing an eye patch on the stronger eye. By covering up this eye with a stick-on eye patch (similar to a Band-Aid), the brain has to use the weaker eye to see. Some kids only need to wear the patch for 2 hours a day, while others may need to wear it whenever they’re awake.
Putting special eye drops in the stronger eye. A once-a-day drop of the drug atropine can temporarily blur near vision, which forces the brain to use the other eye. For some kids, this treatment works as well as an eye patch, and some parents find it easier to use (for example, because young children may try to pull off eye patches).