What is Amblyopia and How is it Treated?
Written by Laura Moyer, VT
Pictured above, Akansha plays Amblyopia iNet, a vision therapy computer program designed for patients who have amblyopia. This game can be found in our Austin vision care clinic, the Center for Vision Development.
What is Amblyopia?
Amblyopia (pronounced “am-blee-oh-pee-ah”) is a visual disorder most commonly known as “Lazy Eye.” It has many definitions but is generally understood as low visual acuity or clarity in one or both eyes that cannot be corrected with lenses such as prescribed glasses. Amblyopia can occur for several reasons and is classified based on these possible causes:
- Strabismic Amblyopia: This is the most common type of amblyopia. It occurs when an eye turns outward (exotropia) or inward (esotropia), which is a disorder called strabismus. Rather than use the information from a turned eye, which would cause double vision and confusion, the brain simply ignores it most of the time. This causes the eye (or eyes) to weaken over time.
- Refractive Amblyopia: This occurs when one eye or both eyes have a high uncorrected refractive error (near-sightedness, far-sightedness or astigmatism). A high refractive error causes a blurred image, which can cause the brain to suppress or ignore vision from the eye.
- Deprivation Amblyopia: This occurs in early development when the baby’s eye(s) are not stimulated by light properly. This could be due to a birth defect such as congenital cataracts, which blocks light from entering the eyes and hitting the retina. This causes the eye to become “weakened” because the brain cannot receive the information. If prompt treatment of the underlying cause is provided, there is an opportunity for the eyes to develop normally.
Regardless of the cause, amblyopia is weakened eye(s) due to the brain not receiving information properly and despite nothing necessarily being wrong with the eye(s) physically. However, not all hope is lost as vision therapy can be an effective treatment for this disorder.
How Vision Therapy Can Help
Vision therapy activities done at certain adult and pediatric eye care clinics can help stimulate the amblyopic eye and improve its connection to the brain. Direct patching with eye exercises can be used to help correct amblyopia. A patch is placed over the “normal” eye in order to force the brain to use the amblyopic eye. In the case of bilateral amblyopia, where both eyes are amblyopic, the patch can be alternated so both eyes get a turn being stimulated. Passive patching, where a patch is placed over the eye for long periods of time without any activity being done, is not an effective treatment. However, direct patching for 10 to 30 minutes at a time paired with activities similar to “I Spy” books, hidden pictures, detailed mazes, etc. can help teach the amblyopic eye to improve its “conversation” with the brain and relay information to the brain more effectively. Detail work is critical for these activities to be effective, as it forces the amblyopic eye to notice detail and improve in acuity. Virtual reality is also a promising treatment for amblyopia, as it can be used to target the amblyopic eye and perform work in a similar way to direct patching with detailed activities, as well as teach the eyes to work together. It is important for the eyes to work as a team for many reasons, including being able to perceive depth and orient through space. By improving amblyopic symptoms, eye teaming can be achieved more effectively.
We do all of these activities and more at the Center for Vision Development, an Austin Eye Care center located in the Westlake Medical Center. We not only assess amblyopia, but also a myriad of vision disorders at our Vision Care Austin and Waco clinic. Email us for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (512) 329-8900.