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What is Amblyopia?

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What is amblyopia?

Amblyopia is decreased vision in one or both eyes due to abnormal development of vision during infancy or childhood. The decreased vision is a result of the nerve pathways that connect the eye to the brain are not properly stimulated. This results in the brain “learning” to see only blurry images.  This often happens in one eye and is often called the “lazy” eye, with the other eye seeing better.  However, amblyopia can occur in both eyes.  

What causes amblyopia?

The most common cause is young children not getting the proper vision correction in early childhood resulting in poor development of visual function in the affected eye(s).  This is called refractive amblyopia.  Another common cause is strabismus or eye misalignment.  This can result in one or both eyes turning in, out, up or down due to a weak eye muscle (crossed eyes).  Lastly, a rare cause for amblyopia is that light is being blocked by a structure like a cataract, scar on the cornea or droopy eyelid.  This is called deprivation amblyopia.  

How is amblyopia treated?

Refractive amblyopia – occurs when there is a large or unequal amount of prescription between the a child’s eyes.  The child may not complain because the child may be seeing well with the better seeing eye.  Also, the amblyopic eye may not look different from the normal eye.  The treatment is consistent wear of glasses and/or contact lenses to provide a clear image to the brain.  The brain is “used to” see blurry with the amblyopic eye and must learn how to see better now that a clearer image is provided by glasses or contact lenses.  Follow-ups are needed to monitor for vision improvement.  

Strabismic amblyopia – occurs when one or both eyes turn in, out, up, or down.  This can create confusion and double vision.  Overtime, the brain learns to compensate by “turning off” the lazy eye which can lead to permanent reduction of vision in one eye.  Strabismus usually develops in infants and young children, most often by age 3.  Treatment of strabismus includes eyeglasses, prisms, vision therapy, or eye muscle surgery.  

Early detection and treatment is essential to preventing vision loss in children due to amblyopia.  None of these treatments guarantee 20/20 or “perfect” vision but not treating will result in poor visual function.  However, if treated early and consistently, the child will be able to function and lead a normal life.  

Call our office today 925-743-1222 to schedule your child’s eye examination.  We see patients as young as 6 months of age.


Written by Dr. Michael Duong

Dr. Duong received his bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in chemistry at San Jose State University. He then attended Pennsylvania College of Optometry and received his Doctor of Optometry in 2009.
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