Amblyopia, or “lazy eye” as it is more commonly known, affects around two percent of children in Australia and occurs when one eye experiences reduced vision and the other eye experiences normal vision but the brain only processes the image coming from the eye with normal vision.
“Amblyopia will usually manifest before a child is eight years old but often can only be detected by an optometrist through vision screening tools. As the reduction in vision caused by amblyopia often cannot be corrected with glasses, contact lenses or surgery, patching is a standard, but important, treatment method for the condition,” said Lyn Hsieh, optometrist and Senior Policy and Advocacy Coordinator at Optometry Victoria South Australia.
The development of amblyopia stems from eye problems like strabismus (inward or outward misalignment of the eye) or refractive errors (focusing light accurately on the retina), which keep the eye from seeing correctly.
Can amblyopia be treated?
From an intervention and treatment perspective, early identification of amblyopia is essential as the development of neural pathways connecting the eyes and brain begins to slow as we age.
When a child hits the age of 10, reduced vision is exceedingly difficult to improve, which means addressing amblyopia in its initial stages is vital for correction and restoration of eyesight.
What is “patching”?
By covering the stronger eye with a patch, the child’s weaker (amblyopic) eye is forced to work harder to allow the vision in that eye to develop and strengthen.
The amount of patching required is dependent on the degree or severity of the amblyopia and these treatment guidelines will be advised by your optometrist, ophthalmologist or orthoptist.
What patches work best?
Total coverage of the eye is most effective, meaning eye patches that adhere to the skin surrounding the eye will produce the best results.
While looking like a pirate might be fun, strap-on patches and patches worn over glasses do not provide the same level of coverage and are only occasionally recommended for use.
How do I get my child to wear their patch?
We won't pretend that wearing an eye patch is the most comfortable or convenient thing in the world, but there are a few helpful hacks we can recommend to make life a little easier for your child (and you!):
- Make sure patching starts at a time when you can devote full attention to your child – typically, the first few days are the most difficult and kids will commonly refuse to wear the patch and/or remove it if left unsupervised
- Find fun ways to encourage your child to actively use vision in their amblyopic eye while their strong one is patched. You could play board games, read, paint or draw. These activities all help to promote brain/eye connection. The following iPad, tablet and smartphone apps are also great tools to use in moderation – Crayola, Duplo, Lego and Playschool Art Maker
- Break up the burden – so long as the necessary patch time is achieved over a 24-hour period, the required hours of patching can be split throughout the course of a day
- If your child does remove their patch, replace it as quickly as possible; continuous and consistent encouragement and use of incentives may be needed until they become more used to wearing it
Why exam examinations are so important
A child is not likely to tell you if their vision is blurry (because for them, it’s the norm) and you will not necessarily see signs of strabismus, amblyopia or refractive errors.
This is why Optometry Australia recommends that all children have an eye exam before they start school and regular eye checks every two to three years after even if no concerns were initially noted.
To schedule an appointment with your local optometrist, you can use our Find an Optometrist search tool to schedule an appointment with your local optometrist today.
Image: Kids Eye Gear