Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Lazy Eye in Kids

What do you picture when someone says they have a lazy eye?
If you're like most people, you think of one eye that wanders or droops. I found out today that is not necessarily true.

Lazy eye or amblyopia is a loss of vision or lack of development of central vision in one eye caused by inadequate use during early childhood. You do not necessarily have an eye that wanders when you have a lazy eye. A wandering eye is called strabismus. Some people have strabismus and amblyopia. According to the Vision Learning Center, about 2-3% of the population has amblyopia.

It is very important to get a lazy eye treated early on. That's why Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky have made it a law for every child in public school to have a complete eye exam within a year before kindergarten. The exam is intended to catch all vision problems, but lazy eye is the most common.

Peoria, IL Opthalmologist Dr. Steve Lichtenstein says he diagnoses lazy eye in 4 to 5 out of every 100 kids he examines. The kids don't realize the extent of their vision problems because they have never had 20/20 vision. He says his daughter had amblyopia and she could pick up the tiniest little object with no problem because her other eye or "good" eye was doing all the work.

Dr. Lichtenstein says if kids with vision problems like lazy eye are treated early on, the problem can be corrected. However, by age 10, it is too late. He explains the process like slow drying concrete. Once we reach 10 years old, the concrete is completely dry. If we catch the "concrete" at age three, it is much softer and easier to shape the way we want it.

There are often no symptoms of lazy eye, but here's the general list for the kids who do show signs:

  • Noticeably favoring one eye

  • Eye turning in, out or up

  • Closing of one eye

  • Squint

  • Headaches or eyestrain

How is amblyopia treated?

  • Surgery may be performed on the eye muscles to straighten the eyes if non-surgical means are unsuccessful.

  • Eye exercises may be recommended either before or after surgery to correct faulty visual habits associated with strabismus and to teach comfortable use of the eyes.

  • Patching or covering one eye may be required for a period of time ranging from a few weeks to as long as a year. The better-seeing eye is patched, forcing the "lazy" one to work, thereby strengthening its vision.

  • Medication—in the form of eye drops or ointment—may be used to blur the vision of the good eye in order to force the weaker one to work.

I had a patch on my eye when I was young. One of my eyes veered inward. I realized today I had amblyopia AND strabismus. Interesting. The patches I had looked like a bandage, not like the cute little pink one on the little girl in this picture. I have a horrible memory, but I will never forget having to rip the eye patch off every few days to put on a new one. It was not fun, but I am glad it was treated. Otherwise, I could be functionally blind right now.

-NewsAnchorMom Jen


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