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Amblyopia, also known as lazy eye, affects up to 3 out of 100 children and it is the most common cause of vision loss in children. Usually, it affects one eye and rarely both eyes. Early treatment can prevent long-term vision problems, but it can be hard to notice initial symptoms of amblyopia. Hence, parents are advised to take their kids for a vision screening at least once between ages 3 and 5. Many cases of amblyopia in children are diagnosed during a routine eye exam.
Amblyopia develops when the brain and the eye are not working together properly, and the brain can't recognize the sight from the eye, leading to the reduction of the vision in one of the eyes. As the brain increasingly relies on the other stronger eye, the vision in the weaker eye gets worse. The affected eye is called "lazy eye" because the unaffected eye works better. Left untreated, it can lead to one-eye vision impairment.
Amblyopia starts in childhood and usually persists into adulthood, if not treated successfully in its early stage.
The US CDC estimates that 2 3 per cent of the population is affected by amblyopia, which is also the most common cause of one-eye vision loss among children and young and middle-aged adults.
Who is at risk of developing amblyopia? Kids who have strabismus (an imbalance in the positioning of the two eyes); refractive errors (nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatic) in one eye, and cataract (Yes, you heard it right, children can also have cataracts).
The affected eye itself looks normal and symptoms may not be easily noticeable. As listed by CDC, here are some symptoms of amblyopia in children that parents should look out for:
Children may be born with amblyopia or develop it later in childhood. Premature babies and children who were born smaller than average at birth have higher chances of having amblyopia. Kids who have a family history of amblyopia, childhood cataracts, or developmental disabilities are also at increased risk for the condition.
If amblyopia is caused by other vision problems, that's would be treated first. For example, glasses or contacts may be recommended for nearsightedness or farsightedness and surgery for cataract.
This would be followed by treatments to re-train the brain to use the weaker eye, such as wearing an eye patch on the stronger eye or putting special eye drops in the stronger eye.
Improvement in the vision can be seen within a few weeks, but it may take months to get the best results. The child may also be required to use these treatments from time to time to stop amblyopia from coming back. Beginning amblyopia treatment during childhood is important as it is usually less effective in adults, says CDC.
Kids with untreated amblyopia may have lifelong vision problems.
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