Lazy eye, or amblyopia, is an eye problem when vision fails to develop normally in childhood despite the use of glasses or contact lenses to rectify the problem. Lazy eye will usually affect just one eye. However, there are a few cases where there are vision problems in both eyes. Without treatment in childhood itself, vision in the affected eye will never develop normally and can even lead to severe vision problems in adulthood, including partial as well as complete blindness. This is why it is really important for kids to get regular eye exams, even if they do not wear glasses. Let’s take a closer look at the lazy eye symptoms that you should keep a lookout for, what the causes could be, and the treatment options to prevent further damage.
Symptoms of Lazy Eye
Vision issues in children are mainly caused by lazy eye. The condition affects babies and young children so it is important that you are alert to any of the following symptoms. Know though that these symptoms are very subtle and difficult to pick up on so don’t beat yourself up if you do not catch them.
- The eyes can appear cross-eyed from time to time or permanently. Or they can be misaligned. This is the eyes’ attempts to see properly. It’s the same as when you squint to see at a distance. The act of squinting allows you to focus better, which is what your baby’s or child’s eyes are trying to do.
- Speaking of which, even frequent squinting may be because of the lazy eye. Young children may not know the difference between good and poor vision so they will not be able to tell you. If your child squints a lot, it may be that he/she has lazy eye.
- Blurry vision and sometimes double vision is a symptom of lazy eye too.
- If a baby has blurry vision as a result of lazy eye, there is no way that he/she can convey this information to you. So you have to make the symptom of blurry vision come to the fore. Cover one of your baby’s eyes, leaving the other open. Then switch to the other eye. If your baby gets fussy or starts to cry when you cover a particular eye, it could be that he/she is unable to see properly with the uncovered eye which causes confusion and thus the fuss.
- The eyes don’t work together, i.e., one eye may look in one direction while the other looks the opposite way.
Causes of Lazy Eye
Lazy eye is a pretty inaccurate moniker. What happens is that the brain does not somehow focus its energies on the affected eye. In fact, the brain acts like that eye does not exist at all. So rightfully speaking, lazy eye has more to do with problems in brain development than problems with the eye. Anything that causes neurological issues in the brain during the critical years of development will lead to lazy eye. It is estimated that about 3% of all kids below the age of 6 suffer from lazy eye.
- Lazy eye can occur when the nerve pathways that connect the brain to the eyes are not stimulated properly, thus leading the brain to focus on only one eye instead of both. Eventually, the brain will just totally ignore the signals that the lazy eye is trying to send out. The main cause of this is strabismus, which is basically when the muscles that are supposed to position the eyes develop an imbalance. This is what will make the eyes look in opposite directions. The imbalance prevents normal coordination.
- Sometimes, an abnormality with the structure of the eye is what could be causing lazy eye. The abnormality could be from birth but it could also develop as a result of a blow or injury to the eye.
- In some cases, lazy eye can be a symptom of a tumor. Another reason to get your child checked out if you notice symptoms of lazy eye.
If you’re worried about not being able to spot lazy eye, just make sure that you take your child for an eye checkup every year. If lazy eye runs in the family, then a checkup every six months is a must. Lazy eye is also more prominent among babies who are born prematurely since there is a higher chance that their brains did not have enough time to develop in the womb.
Treatment for Lazy Eye
Earlier, it was thought that there was no treatment for lazy eye in adulthood. However, research in recent times has proven that the human brain is capable of change throughout one’s lifetime so efforts taken even later in life will rectify the problem.
Remember that lazy eye actually has to do with the brain ignoring one eye while favoring the other. So the focus of the treatment should be to force the brain to pay attention to the lazy eye. One of the ways of doing this is by wearing an eye patch over the good eye. As you can imagine, this will leave the brain with no choice but to strengthen the neural pathways that connect to the lazy eye. This is indeed a conservative treatment but you’d be surprised by how well it works. The eye patch will need to be worn for about two hours on a daily basis, longer if possible and if you seek quicker results.
If an eye patch is undesirable, then you can use blurring eye drops as an alternative. The special eye drops literally blur vision in the good eye so that the brain has no choice but to strengthen its signals to the lazy eye. This works in the same way as the eye patch and is especially recommended for children as they are unlikely to be patient enough to leave that eye patch on long enough for it to work.
Sometimes, all that is needed to treat a lazy eye is to provide corrective eyewear.
Adults have other options to improve lazy eye. There are computer programs that will stimulate the neural pathways to develop properly so that the problem can be automatically rectified. Even older children have the choice of playing games that are designed for the same end.
The last resort for lazy eye treatment is surgery, a road that should only be taken if all other methods fail. All the above methods can take anywhere from a few weeks to many months to work. So be patient and consistent with your efforts before deciding on surgery.