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August is Amblyopia Awareness Month

Amblyopia (also called lazy eye) is a type of poor vision that usually happens in just 1 eye but less commonly in both eyes. It develops when there’s a breakdown in how the brain and the eye work together and the brain can’t recognize the sight from 1 eye. Over time, the brain relies more and more on the other, stronger eye while vision in the weaker eye gets worse.

It’s called “lazy eye” because the stronger eye works better. But people with amblyopia are not lazy and they can’t control the way their eyes work. Amblyopia starts in childhood and it’s the most common cause of vision loss in kids. Up to 3 out of 100 children have it. The good news is that early treatment works well and usually prevents long-term vision problems.

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:

  • Squinting
  • Shutting one 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.

In many cases, doctors don’t know the cause of amblyopia. But sometimes, a different vision problem can lead to amblyopia. Normally, the brain uses nerve signals from both eyes to see. However, if an eye condition makes vision in 1 eye worse, the brain may try to work around it. It starts to “turn off” signals from the weaker eye and rely only on the stronger eye. Some eye conditions that can lead to amblyopia are:

  • Refractive errors
  • Strabismus
  • Cataract

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).

It’s important to start treating children with amblyopia early, the sooner the better. Kids who grow up without treatment may have lifelong vision problems. Amblyopia treatment is usually less effective in adults than in children.

For information on what you should know about amblyopia, visit here.