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Learning About Amblyopia in Children

Child wearing patch over the stronger eye to treat amblyopia

What is amblyopia?

Amblyopia means that one eye doesn't see as well as the other. Some people call this "lazy eye." Children can develop the problem between birth and about age 7.

Sometimes a child has one weaker eye because both eyes don't focus on the same object. For example, one eye may point straight while the other looks in another direction. The problem may also happen if a child is much more nearsighted or farsighted in one eye than in the other. Cloudiness of the lens or of the clear surface at the front of the eye (cornea) also can lead to amblyopia. Another cause can be a droopy upper eyelid.

Early treatment usually can reverse the problem. The younger your child is when treatment starts, the more likely your child is to have good vision after treatment.

What happens when your child has amblyopia?

When one eye isn't used enough, the visual system in the brain doesn't develop as it should. The brain ignores the images from the weaker eye and uses only the images from the stronger eye. This leads to poor vision in the weaker eye.

What are the symptoms?

In most cases, amblyopia doesn't cause symptoms. But your child may:

  • Have an eye that wanders or doesn't move with the other eye.
  • Have eyes that don't move in the same direction or fix on the same point.
  • Cry or complain when one eye is covered.
  • Squint or tilt the head to look at something.
  • Have an upper eyelid that droops.

How is amblyopia treated?

Treatment trains the brain to use the eye that has weaker vision. This usually allows vision to develop normally in that eye.

The most common treatment is to cover the stronger eye with a patch. Or the doctor may suggest glasses or eyedrops to blur the vision in the good eye. Your doctor will tell you how many hours a day your child should wear the patch or glasses or how often to use eyedrops.

Wearing a patch or glasses can be uncomfortable. And it takes time for your child's brain to learn how to use the weaker eye. But if you support and reassure your child, you can help him or her follow through with treatment.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

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