People use the term “lazy eye” all the time to describe problems with their eyes, but what does it really mean? There are two things that we typically describe as a lazy eye – amblyopia and strabismus. So what are they?
Amblyopia is decreased vision in one or both eyes due to the visual system not developing properly during childhood. It can be caused by an eye turn, a high prescription that is not being corrected with glasses, or by something that blocks vision like a cataract or a droopy eyelid. Essentially, whenever vision in a child’s eye is blurred or obscured the brain is not being stimulated to develop normal 20/20 vision in that eye. Children with amblyopia usually do not have any complaints because they assume that the way they see is normal. If the eye doctor finds that your child has amblyopia, they will recommend treatment to promote proper visual development, which may involve glasses, patching, vision therapy, and/or surgery. It is very important to catch amblyopia early on because most of our visual development occurs by age 6, and amblyopia therapy becomes less effective after that time.
Strabismus is just the medical name for an eye turn. When one of a child’s eyes “wanders”, the eyes are unable to work together as a team. The wandering eye may develop amblyopia, and the child may not develop normal depth perception (or “3-D vision”). This can affect the child’s schoolwork as well as other activities that require normal depth perception such as sports. Strabismus can occur for a number of reasons, but can often be treated with surgery, glasses, or vision therapy.
Early intervention and proper treatment are the keys to dealing with both types of “lazy eye”. The Canadian Association of Optometrists recommends that kids have their first eye exam between 6 and 9 months of age, another as a toddler, and then annual check-ups once they reach school age. However, if the eye doctor determines that your child has a vision problem, he or she may recommend more frequent examinations.