Amblyopia – ‘lazy eye’
About 2%-3% of all children have a lazy eye, clinically known as amblyopia. This may be 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 the age of seven). However, it may still be possible to significantly improve the vision in the weaker eye.
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 glasses 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.
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 improve permanently. 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.