Treating Amblyopia a New Way

Editor: Dr. Russel Lazarus, Published February 11, 2021

New research shows that eye patching may not be the best treatment for amblyopia and lazy eye.

Author: Dr. Valerie Lam

Arggg Matey!  You used to see those kids back in the day that had to wear a pirate patch over one eye and deal with the social pressures of having to walk around with an eye patched in order to treat their lazy eye.

An important idea to understand is that lazy eyes are NOT lazy!

Thankfully, recent research is suggesting that there is a better and even more effective way to treat amblyopia, without the use of the famous pirate patch. This new method is known as ‘Binocular Vision Therapy’.

What is amblyopia?

Amblyopia is commonly known as ‘Lazy Eye’ and defined as “reduced vision typically in one eye that results from the brain suppressing input from the affected eye due to unequal visual signals from each eye (as from strabismus or anisometropia) leading to poor development of visual acuity in the affected eye —called also lazy eye.” 1

In other words, amblyopia is the type of lazy eye that you can’t see from the outside, as the eyes are usually always straight.

Amblyopia is when the vision from one eye is more blurry than the vision from the other eye. This is usually caused by the optical prescription of the eye and/or strabismus (an eye turn).

There are several signs your child may have a lazy eye, but many times this condition remains hidden until obvious signs appear.

Recent research

Recent research published in the Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience Journal suggests that treating amblyopia as a binocular condition will have longer lasting and more effective results. 2

Recent published research shows that patching may no longer be the optimum way to treat amblyopia, rather teaching the eyes to work together, to achieve binocular vision, can be more effective.

Patching works by penalizing the stronger eye by putting a patch over it, and then forcing the weaker eye to work by itself.  The hope is that by making the weaker eye work harder then the vision will improve.

While this can result in visual acuity (clarity) improving over time, there is more risk of regression once the eyes return to a binocular situation.  In other words, though the eye can see clearer over time if you patch, it will not last once you uncover the other eye.

Regression of the improved sight occurs as the ‘stronger’ eye will automatically take over and suppress the vision of the weaker eye once you take off the patch.

How does vision therapy work?

Vision therapy is where we need to start our treatment.

Through Vision therapy we are able to encourage the weaker eye to see clearer and to work together with the stronger eye, resulting in long lasting improvements.

We will use exercises to train the brain to stop suppressing (turning off) the eye with amblyopia so that it can work as a team with the other eye.

When you approach amblyopia treatment as a two eye problem, instead of a one eye problem, you will find that it results in clearer and more comfortable vision for the long run.

Through vision therapy involves the use of special glasses, computer programs, and even virtual reality games to help encourage both eyes to see the way they should.

We use exercises to build up depth perception, to lessen the amount of suppression of the lazy eye, and to build up the speed and accuracy of how the lazy eye performs.

Treating amblyopia with vision therapy is a whole lot more fun and exciting than having to walk around wearing a pirate patch all day.  

Vision therapy will also result in longer lasting results and better vision overall when compared to  eye patching.

References:

  1. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/amblyopia
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21209494.