Amblyopia is an optical complication which occurs and develops in childhood, affecting around one in twenty-five children, although there are sources which claim that it affects as many as one in three.
More commonly known as “lazy eye”, amblyopia occurs naturally in children and can be caused by the mis-connections between the eye and brain. We all have physical links between our brain and our eyes and, as with many other eye disorders, amblyopia is due to those links not being able to function properly, usually because there is a “communication breakdown” between the eyes and the brain.
It usually affects just one eye at a time. Amblyopia can not be corrected by wearing glasses in adult life and, therefore, any underlying problem which may have led to it should be discovered and dealt with at an early age. It can help to use glasses as a corrective measure during childhood. There are also other possibilities such as using an eye-patch to “force” the eye to work properly without the help from the “good” eye.
Amblyopia can also develop as a result of a squint or poor light getting into the eye, the latter often occurring as a symptom of an underlying problem.
Whilst amblyopia usually affects only one eye, reduced vision may occur in both eyes.
Amblyopia should not be confused with Strabismus – a turning or crossing of the eye. Strabismus can be a cause of amblyopia but that is very rare as amblyopia usually occurs independently of other optical disorders.
It can be difficult to diagnose amblyopia if and when it occurs without any other symptoms as there is no physical sign unless it is caused by something which does have a physical sign such as strabismus. Only a trained eye doctor can make such an accurate diagnosis and people may not even realise that there is a problem which is why is is important to keep up with optometrist appointments for children.
What is know as the “critical period” – between the age of birth to six years – it is essential to keep checking a child’s eyesight as this is the period where any interference with accurate vision can cause lazy eye during this time.
Sometimes, the “good” eye will try to take over from the lazy eye and, therefore, may cause the lazy eye to deteriorate. This is another reason why it is so important to diagnose amblyopia as early as possible as it can not be corrected in later life other than the potential option of risky laser eye surgery.