Amblyopiaor lazy eye is a vision problem that occurs in childhood when one eye doesn’t work properly (it is rare that it affects both eyes) and the child cannot see with it very well, and so the child relies on the other (good) eye; this means that the bad eye becomes ‘lazy’ and this gives the condition its common name – lazy eye.
Lazy eye can be caused by a number of conditions such as strabismus or squint, but the effect is that the visual development has not happened correctly for the child, and the connections between the vision system and the brain are not functioning properly and signals are not being sent/received to enable normal vision.
Amblyopia can be detected in children as young as 4 years of age and it is thought that as many as around 1 in 3 children may have the problem, making it a relatively common condition.
The child (especially younger ones – older children may be better able to convey the problem) may not know there is anything wrong with the eye and so it can be difficult to detect, but parents may notice that the child’s eyes look different and even the child may comment about difficulties in focusing whenpainting and drawing, or reading a book and when writing.
There are a number of ways to see whether the child does have a vision problem in one eye – an eye examination can help detect the problem of course and this can happen during just a routine checkup before anyone notices a problem; but if there is a suspicion of a problem at home, parents can try covering one eye at a time to see the child’s reaction and visual capability.
Just because the eyes look different does not mean that the child has amblyopia and there are several other eye problems that may be causing the difference in the eyes, such as strabismus or squint, and cataracts which is when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy and impairs vision. It could even be a simple issue of the child being long-sighted or short-sighted.
The best way to prevent and detect lazy eye is through regular eye examinations of young children through early childhood as their visual ability develops; many eye problems – including amblyopialazy eye – occur in childhood and can be treated easily and effectively whilst the child is still young – it can be much harder to treat older children, teens and adults.
The best time for eye tests is when they are old enough to do the test properly, and because amblyopia is difficult to treat after the age of about four and a half, then the ideal time for an exam is before this, which means between three and four.