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Amblyopia is an uncorrectable decrease in vision in one or both eyes with no apparent structural abnormality seen to explain it. It is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that when a decrease in vision is detected, other causes must be ruled out. Once no other cause is found, amblyopia is the diagnosis. Generally, a difference of two lines or more (on an eye-chart test of visual acuity) between the two eyes or a best corrected vision of 20/30 or worse would be defined as amblyopia. For example, if someone has 20/20 vision with the right eye and only 20/40 with the left, and the left eye cannot achieve better vision with corrective lenses, the left eye is said to be amblyopic.
Lazy eye is a common non-medical term used to describe amblyopia because the eye with poorer vision doesn't seem to be doing its job of seeing. Amblyopia is the most common cause of impaired vision in children, affecting nearly three out of every 100 people or 2-4% of the population. Vision is a combination of the clarity of the images of the eyes (visual acuity) and the processing of those images by the brain. If the images produced by the two eyes are substantially different, the brain may not be able to fuse the images. Instead of seeing two different images or double vision (diplopia), the brain suppresses the blurrier image. This suppression can lead to amblyopia. During the first few years of life, preferring one eye over the other may lead to poor visual development in the blurrier eye.
Causes and symptoms
Some of the major causes of amblyopia are as follows:
- Strabismus. A misalignment of the eyes (strabismus) is the most common cause of functional amblyopia. The two eyes are looking in two different directions at the same time. The brain is sent two different images and this causes confusion. Images from the misaligned or "crossed" eye are turned off to avoid double vision.
- Anisometropia. This is another type of functional amblyopia. In this case, there is a difference of refractive states between the two eyes (in other words, a difference of prescriptions between the two eyes). For example, one eye may be more nearsighted than the other eye, or one eye may be farsighted and the other eye nearsighted. Because the brain cannot fuse the two dissimilar images, the brain will suppress the blurrier image, causing the eye to become amblyopic.
- Cataract. Clouding of the lens of the eye will cause the image to be blurrier than the other eye. The brain "prefers" the clearer image. The eye with the cataract may become amblyopic.
- Ptosis. This is the drooping of the upper eyelid. If light cannot enter the eye because of the drooping lid, the eye is essentially not being used. This can lead to amblyopia.
- Nutrition. A type of organic amblyopia in which nutritional deficiencies or chemical toxicity may result in amblyopia. Alcohol, tobacco, or a deficiency in the B vitamins may result in toxic amblyopia.
- Heredity. Amblyopia can run in families.
Barring the presence of strabismus or ptosis, children may or may not show signs of amblyopia. Children may hold their heads at an angle while trying to favor the eye with normal vision. They may have trouble seeing or reaching for things when approached from the side of the amblyopic eye. Parents should see if one side of approach is preferred by the child or infant. If an infant's good eye is covered, the child may cry.
Because children with outwardly normal eyes may have amblyopia, it is important to have regular vision screenings performed for all children. While there is some controversy regarding the age children should have their first vision examination, their eyes can, in actuality, be examined at any age, even at one day of life.
Some recommend that children have their vision checked by their pediatrician, family physician, ophthalmologist, or optometrist at or before six months of age. Others recommend testing by at least the child's fourth birthday. There may be a "critical period" in the development of vision, and amblyopia may not be treatable after age eight or nine. The earlier amblyopia is found, the better the possible outcome. Most physicians test vision as part of a child's medical examination. If there is any sign of an eye problem, they may refer a child to an eye specialist.
There are objective methods, such as retinoscopy, to measure the refractive status of the eyes. This can help determine anisometropia. In retinoscopy, a hand-held instrument is used to shine a light in the child's (or infant's) eyes. Using hand-held lenses, a rough prescription can be obtained. Visual acuity can be determined using a variety of methods. Many different eye charts are available (e.g., tumbling E, pictures, or letters). In amblyopia, single letters are easier to recognize than when a whole line is shown. This is called the "crowding effect" and helps in diagnosing amblyopia. Neutral density filters may also be held over the eye to aid in the diagnosis. Sometimes visual fields to determine defects in the area of vision will be performed. Color vision testing may also be performed. Again, it must be emphasized that amblyopia is a diagnosis of exclusion. Visual or life-threatening problems can also cause a decrease in vision. An examination of the eyes and visual system is very important when there is an unexplained decrease in vision.
The primary treatment for amblyopia is occlusion therapy. It is important to alternate patching the good eye (forcing the amblyopic eye to work) and the amblyopic eye. If the good eye is constantly patched, it too may become amblyopic because of disuse. The treatment plan should be discussed with the doctor to fully understand how long the patch will be on. When patched, eye exercises may be prescribed to force the amblyopic eye to focus and work. This is called vision therapy or vision training (eye exercises). Even after vision has been restored in the weak eye, part-time patching may be required over a period of years to maintain the improvement.
While patching is necessary to get the amblyopic eye to work, it is just as important to correct the reason for the amblyopia. Glasses may also be worn if there are errors in refraction. Surgery or vision training may be necessary in the case of strabismus. Better nutrition is indicated in some toxic amblyopias. Occasionally, amblyopia is treated by blurring the vision in the good eye with eye drops or lenses to force the child to use the amblyopic eye.
The younger the person, the better the chance for improvement with occlusion and vision therapy. However, treatment may be successful in older children—even adults. Success in the treatment of amblyopia also depends upon how severe the amblyopia is, the specific type of amblyopia, and patient compliance. It is important to diagnose and treat amblyopia early because significant vision loss can occur if left untreated. The best outcomes result from early diagnosis and treatment.
To protect their child's vision, parents must be aware of amblyopia as a potential problem. This awareness may encourage parents to take young children for vision exams early on in life—certainly before school age. Proper nutrition is important in the avoidance of toxic amblyopia.
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What we hope from the operation is that Sally would used her lazy eye and that usage according to doctors is important, to prevent deterioration that may ultimately lead to blindness. At the moment she is using the eyes when she has her glasses on. She would probably keep her glasses on until her vision improves.Worried Sally's mum when she was younger