About lazy eye or amblyopia
Children with lazy eye can’t see properly or at all out of one eye.
Lazy eye develops when the part of the brain that controls how a child sees starts to favour one eye, and the other eye gets weaker as a result. This often happens because of a squint. It can also happen because of short-sightedness, long-sightedness and astigmatism, or when the eyes can’t focus equally.
Structural problems with the eye can also cause lazy eye. Examples of these problems are scars on the cornea, irregularly shaped pupils, droopy eyelids or cataracts.
Sometimes lazy eye has no clear underlying cause.
Lazy eye affects 2-4% of children. It often develops during infancy or early childhood.
Premature babies or babies with low birth weight have an increased chance of getting lazy eye. Lazy eye is also more likely if there’s a family history of eye problems.
Lazy eye is also known as amblyopia.
Signs and symptoms of lazy eye
Children with lazy eye often have no obvious symptoms. They might not look any different from other children or seem to have any problems with their vision.
But in some children, you might notice that:
- one eye turns in a different direction from the other
- one eye is fully or partially shut
- their head is always turned or tilted to one side
- they bump into things more often than other children the same age.
Occasionally, older children with lazy eye will say that they can’t see clearly.
Regular eye examinations: why they’re important
Because it can be hard to tell whether young children have lazy eye, regular eye examinations are the best way to detect this condition.
All children should have an eye test:
- before they start preschool, when they’re 3-3½ years old
- in their first year of school.
Most states and territories run free vision screening programs through local child and family health services or schools. Check with your child and family health nurse or school about what’s offered in your area.
Does your child need to see a health professional about lazy eye symptoms?
Yes. If you notice that your child has any of the signs above or you’re worried about your child’s vision, start by seeing your GP or child and family health nurse. They can refer your child to an optometrist or ophthalmologist if your child needs more tests and checks.
Tests for lazy eye
If your child is referred to an optometrist or ophthalmologist to test for lazy eye, this professional will carefully examine your child’s eyes and vision to diagnose lazy eye and work out what’s causing it.
Lazy eye diagnosis involves various tests and tools. For example, the optometrist or ophthalmologist:
- will check your child’s vision using an eye chart that has letters or symbols on it
- might use medication like eye drops to measure the focus of your child’s eyes
- might use equipment like a retinoscope to work out whether glasses might help your child’s lazy eye.
Early diagnosis and treatment of lazy eye is essential. The earlier lazy eye is treated, the better the outcomes are for children. If lazy eye is left untreated, it can cause permanent vision loss.
Treatment for lazy eye
Lazy eye in children can usually be corrected with the right treatment.
Treatments for lazy eye aim to strengthen the lazy eye and get it working properly. The specific cause of lazy eye in each individual child guides their treatment.
Patching is a common treatment. Patching is when your child wears a sticky patch over their stronger eye for a period of time each day – usually 1-4 hours. The patch might go directly onto your child’s skin. If your child wears glasses, the patch goes over one lens.
To start with, your child might need patching for several hours a day, seven days a week. As your child’s vision improves, they’ll need fewer hours and/or fewer days of patching each week. If your child’s lazy eye is severe, patching might go on for several years.
Some children don’t cope well with patching. If patching is hard for your child, your child’s optometrist or ophthalmologist might give your child special eye drops instead. These blur the vision in the stronger eye.
Sometimes children need to do special exercises to make their lazy eye stronger.
Depending on the cause of the lazy eye, your child might also need to wear glasses.
If your child has a lazy eye, they‘ll need regular check-ups so your child’s optometrist or ophthalmologist can monitor the progress of treatment.
Your child’s optometrist or ophthalmologist might work closely with an orthoptist to treat your child’s lazy eye.