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Amblyopia is a loss of vision, or poor vision, in an eye that did not develop correctly in early childhood. Amblyopia is also called lazy eye because one eye (the amblyopic eye) has weaker vision than the other. While amblyopia most often affects one eye, it can occur in both. This eye condition affects approximately two to three out of every 100 children and is the most common cause of pediatric vision loss.
Pediatric ophthalmologists at Riley at IU Health provide young children with medical and surgical treatment of eye conditions like amblyopia. Our ophthalmologists are board certified in ophthalmology and are committed to providing high-quality care in a child-friendly environment.
To develop good eyesight, infants need both eyes to provide the same clear image to the brain. If the images differ, the brain tries to block the image from the weaker eye. This eye continues to be ignored and amblyopia develops if the problem is not corrected.
Amblyopia can result from any condition that prevents the eye from focusing clearly, such as misalignment of the eyes (strabismus), or a droopy eyelid or clouding of the front part of the eye (a cataract). Refractive error—a problem with the eye’s ability to focus caused by the shape of the eye—may also cause amblyopia. Refractive errors can include nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism.
Early diagnosis of amblyopia is critical because the brain’s vision system is typically completed between the ages of 8 and 10. If amblyopia is not addressed in early childhood, problems such as poor vision, permanent visual defects and problems with depth perception can continue throughout life.
Early treatment can improve vision and deliver the best long-term outcome. Studies show that children age 7 and up are less responsive to treatment than those 3 to 6 years old. One recent study, however, suggests that children up to age 17 may benefit from treatment.
Three Types of Amblyopia:
Symptoms of amblyopia can vary. In many cases, neither the child nor the parent is aware of any symptoms. Amblyopia may be present if:
Sometimes amblyopia is not detected until a vision screening is done. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends vision screening for all children by a pediatrician or primary care doctor at least once between the ages of 3 and 5.
Riley at IU Health pediatric ophthalmologists use a variety of diagnostic tests to detect amblyopia at various ages. Infants are checked for their ability to fix and follow objects with their eyes. An ophthalmologist can screen for strabismus and see how a baby reacts when one eye is covered.
Physicians may test toddlers’ pupillary red reflexes or conduct other tests to identify significant refractive errors like nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. Once children can read or match objects, they can complete a vision screening to test the acuity of each eye.
An ophthalmologist examines the inside of your child’s eye to look for diseases or conditions like cataract inflammation (swelling) or tumors.
Improved vision is the goal of ophthalmologic treatment. Some children do not achieve 20/20 vision, but they can significantly improve their eyesight if diagnosed and treated early. The best time to treat amblyopia is infancy and early childhood.
The most common types of treatment for amblyopia are:
Treatment usually lasts until vision is normal or stops getting better. In most children, this may last several weeks, but in a few cases, patching can be necessary for years.
Children with amblyopia may wear glasses and contacts before and after treatment. These corrective measures will not fix amblyopia, but consistent use can improve overall vision and can be worn by children as young as one week old. Children can choose glasses and be fitted for contacts at our full-service optical shop.
Treatment for amblyopia may not significantly improve vision for some children. For those with good vision in one eye, safety glasses or sports goggles can protect the normal eye. If the normal eye stays healthy, children can function and enjoy all normal activities.
Riley at IU Health offers a broad range of supportive services to make life better for families who choose us for their children's care.
This National Institutes of Health website offers information and links related to health conditions, including amblyopia.
This website is supported through the American Academy of Family Physicians and has public information for conditions such as amblyopia.
The NEI, which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), conducts and supports research, provides training, and shares health information about eyesight, eye diseases and conditions like amblyopia (lazy eye).
The American Academy of Ophthalmology is the largest national membership association of physicians who provide eye care in the United States. Their website contains information for parents about diagnosis and treatment of amblyopia.
In addition to our primary hospital location at the Academic Health Center in Indianapolis, IN, we have convenient locations to better serve our communities throughout the state.
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