Top of the page
Amblyopia is a childhood problem that happens when one eye is weaker than the other. The brain chooses to take in images from the stronger eye and ignore images from the weaker eye. This means that your child uses the strong eye more than the weak eye. If the weak eye doesn't have to work, it isn't able to develop good vision. This leads to poor vision in the weaker eye.
Amblyopia usually affects only one eye.
The problem starts between birth and about age 7. Your child may not even know that he or she is using only one eye. Ignoring the images from the weak eye is an automatic response. Your child has no control over it.
Early treatment usually can reverse amblyopia. The younger your child is when treatment starts, the more likely your child is to have good vision.
Amblyopia is sometimes called "lazy eye."
Any condition that prevents your child's eyes from forming a clear, focused image or that prevents the normal use of one or both eyes can cause amblyopia. It may happen when:
Your child may be more likely to have amblyopia if someone else in your family had it or if your child had a premature birth or low birth weight.
In most cases, amblyopia does not cause symptoms. But your child may:
Your child's doctor will do an eye examination. If the examination shows that your child has poor vision in one eye, the doctor may diagnose amblyopia after ruling out other causes.
To help make the diagnosis, the doctor will ask about symptoms, any family members who have had vision problems, other possible risk factors such as low birth weight, and whether your child has trouble reading, seeing the board in school, or watching TV.
The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends screening to detect lazy eye (amblyopia), misaligned eyes (strabismus), and defects in visual acuity in children younger than 5 years of age. footnote 1 If you have concerns about your child's eyes or vision, call your child's doctor, or take him or her to an eye doctor.
For amblyopia to be treated, your child must use the weak eye. This will force the eye to get stronger. Over time this corrects the vision in the weak eye.
Your doctor may suggest:
Your child may have to wear the patch or glasses most of the day or for just part of each day. Treatment may last for a few weeks or months. Severe cases may take longer.
If another problem is causing the amblyopia, such as a cataract, it also needs to be treated.
Treatment is best started before age 6 and should begin before your child's vision has fully developed, around age 9 or 10. Later treatment will most likely be less helpful but may still improve vision in some cases. A child with amblyopia who does not get treatment may have poor vision for life.
After treatment ends, be sure to set up follow-up eye examinations for your child. Amblyopia can return even after successful treatment.
Treatment sounds simple, but using an eye patch or glasses may bother your child. To help your child:
CitationsCommunity Paediatrics Committee, Canadian Paediatric Society (2009, reaffirmed 2018). Vision screening in infants, children and youth. Paediatrics and Child Health, 14(4): 246–248. http://www.cps.ca/en/documents/position/children-vision-screening. Accessed April 12, 2021.
Current as of: April 29, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: John Pope MD - PediatricsE. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: April 29, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:John Pope MD - Pediatrics & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.