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The leading cause of childhood visual impairment is most treatable before age 5

Experts know it as amblyopia, but most of us call it "lazy eye." It’s the leading cause of childhood visual impairment, affecting up to four of every 100 kids, and when left untreated, it can become a permanent issue for adults. 

Amblyopia occurs when the brain favors one eye, often due to problems in the other eye, such as nearsightedness, farsightedness or misalignment. Parents may notice an eye that wanders, crosses or does not track with the other eye. This is because the brain learns to ignore images from the weaker eye, which can lead to permanent vision problems, including blindness in the eye.

The good news is the condition is usually quite treatable in childhood. First, your child's eye care provider will want to check for and treat any underlying visual problems. Often, treatment is focused on strengthening the weaker eye by:

  • using atrophine eye drops to temporarily blur vision in the stronger eye.
  • wearing an eye patch over the stronger eye for a set amount of time each day.

Covering or temporarily blurring the stronger eye encourages the brain to use the weaker eye, thereby strengthening it.

Recent studies have revealed some helpful insights regarding amblyopia:

  • Children ages 3-5 have the most dramatic response to treatment for amblyopia — about twice that of their older peers.
  • Older children, ages 7-17, actually respond better than previously believed to similar treatments. Before, it was assumed these options were of little benefit to older children.

It is important to address this disorder early in life, while the brain is still developing and establishing complex connections, thereby making it receptive to treatment.

Parents should be cognicent of this research, because amblyopia is a case where the 'wait and see' approach can do more harm than good. Please reach out to your eye care professional with any childhood vision concerns, so he or she can help address the problem when it is most treatable and before it interferes with healthy childhood development.

If you notice your child showing signs of a crossed or wandering eye, contact your eye care provider. Monroe Clinic offers comprehensive eye care services at:

Freeport: 815-232-1105

Monroe: 608-324-2350