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Eye professionals at Tyrone Hospital call attention to lazy eye – a common vision condition in children

Amblyopia, also known as “lazy eye,” is reduced vision and the loss of ability to see details in one or both eyes.
According to the National Eye Institute, amblyopia is the most common cause of visual impairment in childhood. The condition affects approximately 2 to 3 out of every 100 children. Unless it is successfully treated in early childhood, amblyopia usually persists into adulthood, and is the most common cause of monocular (one eye) visual impairment among children and young and middle-aged adults.
Jill Finke, O.D., an optometrist at Heimer Eye Care Associates, said that with amblyopia, the eye itself looks normal, but it is not being used normally.
“The brain notices that one eye is weaker and it starts to ignore that eye and favor the stronger eye,” noted Dr. Finke. “Subsequently, the eye that is ignored does not develop proper vision.”
What causes amblyopia? Crossed eyes, nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, severely droopy eyelids, and childhood cataracts are all vision conditions that can contribute to the development of amblyopia or a lazy eye.
“Any of these conditions can encourage reliance on one eye more than the other for vision,” said Dr. Finke.
Children under nine years of age whose vision is still developing are at highest risk for amblyopia. Parents can reduce their child’s risk of developing amblyopia by making sure any vision problems are detected and properly treated.
Dr. Finke said children may or may not show signs of amblyopia. Symptoms that may suggest amblyopia or other vision problems include the eyes turning in, out or up, a child closing one eye (particularly in bright sunlight), squinting, eyes that do not appear to work together, a drooping eyelid, the child favoring one side of approach over the other, inability to judge depth correctly, and headaches or eyestrain. Dr. Finke said children may also position their heads at an angle while trying to favor the eye with normal vision. They may have difficulty seeing or reaching for things on the side that has the lazy eye. Parents should see if one side of approach is preferred by their child or infant. If an infant’s stronger eye is covered, the child may cry.
The best way to catch amblyopia and other vision problems is through a comprehensive vision exam.
“The visual system in the brain is developed by the age of ten,” said Dr. Finke. “If children receive treatment at a young age, they will get better results because the visual system in the brain is still developing and can be retrained. Vision exams allow problems to be detected and treated early.”
The most effective way of treating amblyopia is to encourage the child to use the amblyopic or weaker eye. This may be accomplished by patching the stronger eye or using special eye drops to stimulate vision in the weaker eye and help the part of the brain that manages vision develop more completely.
Dr. Finke said treatment should be managed by an eye care professional and cooperation of the child and parents is required to achieve good results. If left untreated or if not treated properly, the reduced vision associated with amblyopia can become permanent. Any underlying vision conditions also need to be treated. That may mean glasses or other treatment as appropriate.
Dr. Finke added that it is important for young children to have a comprehensive vision exam so conditions like amblyopia or other vision problems can be detected and corrected early.
According to the American Optometric Association, as much as eighty percent of learning occurs through vision. The longer a vision problem goes undiagnosed and untreated, the more a child’s brain learns to accommodate the vision problem. Uncorrected vision conditions can affect a child’s development and their quality of life.
Dr. Finke stated the general guidelines for children to have vision exams is to have a comprehensive eye exam at age one, age three, and every two years afterwards, especially if there is a family history of any type of vision condition.
Tyrone Hospital received a Healthy Vision grant from the National Institute of Health, National Eye Institute. The grant is being used to provide vision screenings for preschool age children in Tyrone Hospital’s service area. As part of the grant project, information about children’s vision health is being provided to the community through a series of news articles made possible through the cooperative efforts of Tyrone Hospital, Heimer Eye Care Associates and The Daily Herald.