Navigate Up

Women's Center - A-Z Index

#
Y

Print This Page

Amblyopia

Amblyopia, or "lazy eye," is the loss of one eye's ability to see details. It is the most common cause of vision problems in children.

Alternative Names

Lazy eye

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Amblyopia occurs when the nerve pathway from one eye to the brain does not develop during childhood. This occurs because the abnormal eye sends a blurred image or the wrong image to the brain.

This confuses the brain, and the brain may learn to ignore the image from the weaker eye.

Strabismus is the most common cause of amblyopia. There is often a family history of this condition.

The term "lazy eye" refers to amblyopia, which often occurs along with strabismus. However, amblyopia can occur without strabismus and people can have strabismus without amblyopia.

Other causes include:

Symptoms

  • Eyes that turn in or out
  • Eyes that do not appear to work together
  • Inability to judge depth correctly
  • Poor vision in one eye

Signs and tests

Amblyopia is usually easily diagnosed with a complete examination of the eyes. Special tests are usually not needed.

Treatment

First, any eye condition that is causing poor vision in the amblyopic eye (such as cataracts) needs to be corrected.

Children with a refractive error (nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism) will need glasses.

Next, a patch is placed on the normal eye. This forces the brain to recognize the image from the eye with amblyopia. Sometimes, drops are used to blur the vision of the normal eye instead of putting a patch on it.

For treatment of crossed eyes, see: Strabismus

Children whose vision will not fully recover, and those with only good eye due to any disorder should wear glasses with protective polycarbonate lenses. Polycarbonate glasses are shatter- and scratch-resistant.

Expectations (prognosis)

Children who get treated before age 5 will usually recover almost completely normal vision, although they may continue to have problems with depth perception.

Delaying treatment can result in permanent vision problems. After age 10, only a partial recovery of vision can be expected.

Complications

  • Eye muscle problems that may require several surgeries, which can have complications
  • Permanent vision loss in the affected eye

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider or ophthalmologist if you suspect a vision problem in a young child.

Prevention

Early recognition and treatment of the problem in children can help to prevent permanent visual loss. All children should have a complete eye examination at least once between ages 3 and 5.

Special techniques are needed to measure visual acuity in a child who is too young to speak. Most eye care professionals can perform these techniques.

References

Olitsky SE, Hug D, Plummer LS, Stass-Isern M. Disorders of eye movement and alignment. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF,eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 615.

Olitsky SE, Coats DK. Amblyopia and its management. In: Tasman W, Jaeger EA, eds. Duane's Ophthalmology. 15th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2009:chap 10.

Updated: 9/18/2012

Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Franklin W. Lusby, MD, Ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com