Amblyopia (Lazy Eye) : Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Amblyopia, or lazy eye, is a sight disorder where the vision in one is not fully developed, often due to the lack of use in early childhood.

Estimated to affect 1-5% of the population, Amblyopia is treatable, but only if diagnosed and treated early enough. Late diagnosis & treatment can mean that the condition becomes permanent.

What Causes Amblyopia?

One of the most common causes of Amblyopia is a squint (strabismus), a condition where the eyes look in different directions. This is referred to as strabismic amblyopia.

In some cases, it can be caused by inconsistent refractive errors (anisometropia), which have not been treated with glasses in childhood. Refractive errors such as Myopia (short-sightedness), Hyperopia (long-sightedness) or Astigmatism should be corrected with glasses, contact lenses (or Laser Eye Surgery) to give balanced vision in both eyes. In some cases though, the refractive error is different in each eye, which is known as anisometropia – in childhood, anisometropia, if uncorrected, can lead to one eye not being used. This can cause amblyopia – known as refractive amblyopia.

Effectively, any eye condition in young children that results in them being less able to see clearly in one eye can lead to Amblyopia – even conditions such as cataracts and droopy eyelid (ptosis).

What Are The Symptoms Of Amblyopia?

In most cases, only one eye is affected, although it can sometimes affect both eyes. Younger children are often unaware that they have a vision problem, so the only noticeable symptom is likely to be from the underlying condition (i.e. squint etc.). Older children may start to complain about headaches or problems reading.

What Are The Treatment Options?

One of the most common Amblyopia treatments is the use of glasses or contact lenses from as early an age as possible. Other treatment options include an eye patch on the better-seeing eye, which force the amblyopic (lazy) eye to work harder to improve its vision. Eye drops are sometimes used to blur the better-seeing eye, also forcing the child to use affected eye.

Can Adults With Amblyopia Have Laser Eye Surgery?

Laser Eye Surgery can only improve the vision in an amblyopic eye to the level that that eye can achieve with glasses. We are not able to refine the vision further because the necessary visual ‘pathways’ have not been developed in childhood.

However, while Laser Eye Surgery cannot specifically treat a lazy eye, many amblyopic patients are still suitable for Laser Eye Surgery, which aims to achieve the best possible overall vision. Many patients with mild lazy eyes have had successful outcomes after laser surgery.