About 2% to 3% of all children have a lazy eye, clinically known as ‘amblyopia’. This may because they have one eye that is much more short- or long-sighted than the other, or they may have a squint (where the eyes are not looking in the same direction).
The sooner the child is treated, the more likely they are to have good vision. It is more difficult to treat lazy eye if the eyesight has finished developing (usually around seven or eight), although it may still be possible to significantly improve the vision.
The NHS recommends that all children should have vision screening during their first year at school. This is not a full eye examination but is an important way to identify reduced vision at an early age. The screening test is done in school, usually by a school nurse, and is important because many children will not realise that they have a lazy eye, and parents may not be able to see it. If your child misses the school screening for any reason, you should take them to your local optometrist for a sight test (paid for by the NHS).
Don’t expect your child to tell you if there is a problem. Children assume that the way they see is normal – they will not have known anything different.
Be aware that children with learning difficulties are ten times more likely to have problems with their vision, and carers and parents may find it harder to spot difficulties.
The treatment will depend on what is causing the lazy eye:
- If it is simply because the child needs glasses, the optometrist will prescribe these to correct sight problems
- If the child has a squint, this may be fully or partially corrected with glasses. However, some children may need an operation to straighten the eyes, which can take place as early as a few months of age
- If the child has a lazy eye, eye drops or patching the good eye can help to encourage them to use the lazy eye to make is see better
Some children find it hard to get on with patching or with glasses although they will improve their vision. You may like to download this poem for children about wearing a patch – The_Perfect_Patch.
Whether a child needs glasses or not is because of the shape and size of their eyes. Wearing glasses will not change their eye shape, and will not make your child’s eyes worse. If your child has a lazy eye, wearing glasses may make their sight permanently improve. Your optometrist will tell you how often and when your child should wear their glasses.
The video below should be viewed in conjunction with the text beneath it and preferably watched while your optometrist discusses it with you.
- Although the eyes are almost fully developed at birth
- … the brain is unable to make sense of the information being sent by the eyes
- … so vision is very poor over the first few months of life.
- For vision to develop normally, the eyes must be straight and be receiving a clear image.
- If for example, one eye looks slightly inwards, the image will not be clear.
- The part of the brain receiving information from this eye
- … will not develop properly and the eye will become lazy (amblyopic).
- If this is picked up early enough, the good eye can be covered with a patch.
- This will get the lazy eye working again.
- In most cases the vision in the lazy eye can be greatly improved with this treatment.