Lazy eye (amblyopia) is a childhood eye disorder characterized by poor vision in just one eye. It is caused by abnormal visual development early in life and occurs when there’s a breakdown in how the eye and the brain work together. Over time, vision in the weaker eye gets worse because the brain relies on images that come from the other, stronger eye. Early diagnosis and treatment will correct the poorer vision and prevent long-term eye problems.

Lazy Eye Causes

Amblyopia is related to developmental problems in the brain. These problems affect the nerve pathways between the retina and the brain. The lazy eye receives fewer visual signals. The brain may try to work around it but will eventually ignore or suppress input from the weaker eye. Here are some eye conditions that may cause amblyopia in a child.

  • Refractive errors

Also known as refractive amblyopia, a refractive error is characterized by a difference in sharpness of vision between the eyes. It can mean being farsighted, nearsighted, or having astigmatism (distorted vision). A refractive error that is worse in one eye can result in lazy eye.

  • Strabismus

The eyes usually move as a pair. But in children with strabismus, the eyes point in two different directions. One eye might drift up, down, in, or out while the other is focused straight ahead.

  • Cataract

Some kids are born with a cataract, which causes cloudiness in the normally clear part of the eye. Vision in the affected eye might not develop properly.

Risk Factors Lazy Eye

Some children are born with lazy eye and others develop it later in childhood. Factors that increase the risk of developing lazy eye include:

  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Developmental delays
  • Family history of amblyopia or childhood cataracts

Lazy Eye Signs and Symptoms

Amblyopia is not always obvious, but common signs and symptoms include:

  • Squinting or shutting one eye a lot
  • An eye that drifts inward or outward
  • A tendency to bump into objects on a particular side
  • Head tilting
  • Poor depth perception
  • Eyes that don’t move in the same direction
  • Large difference in farsightedness or nearsightedness

Lazy Eye Diagnosis

A doctor may notice your child’s eye wandering after the first few weeks of life. But typically, amblyopia is diagnosed through a routine vision check. All children ages 3 to 5 should have a complete eye exam at least once. If there’s a family history of childhood cataracts, misaligned eyes, or serious eye disease, the vision check should be done before 6 months of age.

Treatment for Amblyopia

Treatment for lazy eye generally involves retraining the brain to use the weaker eye, forcing the eye to work more actively. Treatment options include:

Eye patch: An eye patch is placed on the stronger eye for at least a few hours a day. The patch directs the brain’s attention to the weaker eye’s visual input, eventually making that eye stronger.

Atropine eye drops: For mild cases, atropine eye drops may be recommended to temporarily blur vision in the second eye. The goal is the same as a patch – to strengthen the weaker eye’s visual input.

Eyeglasses and contacts: These can help lazy eye by improving farsightedness, nearsightedness, and eye crossing.

Surgery: In some cases, an ophthalmologist will recommend surgery to fix certain causes of lazy eye, including cataracts, droopy eyelids, and corneal scars.

The Bottom Line

Identifying and treating lazy eye before age 7 increases the chances of full recovery. Talk to a doctor if you think your child may have amblyopia and make sure they get a comprehensive eye checkup early on. Contact us to schedule an appointment.