As a parent, it’s entirely normal to worry about things that don’t quite look right. A lazy eye in your children is one of those things. The good news is a lazy eye isn’t something that you instantly need to fear if your child is healthy in other ways. However, this is something that you can correct if you catch it early, so it’s still worth speaking to an optician as soon as possible.
A lazy eye is medically known as amblyopia. It’s a condition that is developed through the strength of the muscles and connections within the eyes. One eye can be much stronger than the other, causing the weaker eye to appear lazy.
Don’t panic right now. Here’s all you need to know about the condition until you speak to your optician and discuss the options to correct it.
What Exactly Is a Lazy Eye?
Amblyopia occurs because one eye is stronger than the other. Our eyes send messages to the brain of the things around us, allowing the brain to turn those messages into pictures and sights. One eye can have a better connection than the other, meaning that the weaker eye doesn’t work as much. It allows the stronger eye to do the work and wanders around more. It looks lazy and if left untreated it can affect the vision in the future.
The good news is when caught early it can be corrected. Technology and eye patches are used to help improve the strength of that weaker eye, making it work just as well as the other. The muscles and connections are strengthened, in the way, you would strengthen your weaker muscles in the body.
Why Does a Lazy Eye Occur?
Many mothers worry that they’ve done something in pregnancy that has caused the lazy eye. That is not the case. A lazy eye can occur for many reasons, but the most common is linked to the muscle development within the eyes. Around 3% of children will develop a lazy eye and this is something that can develop in the first few years, so not even be present at birth!
A strabismus is common, where the muscles behind the eyes start to develop in an unbalanced way. The muscles help to control where the eyes look and how they move. If the muscles on one side are weaker, the eye on that side will move slower or remain stationary.
Sometimes there are structural problems, or it may be due to underdevelopment. Lazy eyes are common in children who are born prematurely, along with some other eye problems. Cataracts and some other eye problems can also lead to a lazy eye developing. The brain realizes there’s an issue and ignores some of the signals from the eyes, focusing more on the unaffected or better-developed eye.
Even when an eye condition is repaired, the brain may not get that full message. It’s already started to ignore the signals, so will continue to ignore the message that the eyesight has been improved.
It is possible to correct a lazy eye, but it’s best done before the child reaches six years old. You will want to look for signs to make sure you catch the condition early and help to correct the messages going to the brain.
There are times that astigmatism or nearsightedness can cause a lazy eye. This is something your optometrist will check for when you take a test, as the vision will also need to be corrected to protect the eyesight.
What Do You Need to Watch For?
We can naturally ignore some of the early signs of a lazy eye. This can include a drooping eyelid or the initial slow movements. They may not be present at first and take time to further development. You can start looking at the eyes from the very first moment, but the lazy eye can start to get worse from the first few years, as your child starts focusing on more objects in the room.
Watch the eyes while your child focuses on objects in their hands and moves those objects around. Both eyes should follow at the same pace. If one is slower, it’s a sign that this eye is underdeveloped and weaker and will need some correcting to improve. You may also notice that one eye works in a different direction to the other, sometimes squinting or crossing.
Crossing the eyes can be normal in babies. Their eye muscles still must strengthen, as the eyes are among the last elements to develop. It’s when they start to develop hand-eye coordination that you need to watch.
It’s not just about the movement of the eyes, though. You’ll also want to look at the depth perception abilities. You can test this by holding an object out in arm’s reach. Ask your child to reach for it without moving their body. If they fumble in the air or don’t reach far enough (or even reach too far) this could be a sign that their depth perception hasn’t developed enough. You will need to wait for your child to understand commands to do this, as babies will usually move forward to reach because it’s easier.
The depth perception uses both eyes together. They need to work at the same strength (or at least as close to the same as possible) to tell not just where the object is, but how far away they are. Someone without both eyes working properly can find it harder to judge distances well.
You will also want to look out for any crossing of the eyes. While children can sometimes cross their eyes because they think it looks funny, this can also be a sign of a lazy eye when done unintentionally. The eye muscles work separately, causing one eye to look in the wrong direction or not moving fast enough with the other eye, giving the appearance of a cross-eyed look.
Can Your Optometrist Diagnose Lazy Eye?
If you suspect there’s a lazy eye, you can go directly to your optician. If there is ever a problem with the eyes, this is the first port of call, rather than to the doctor. Your optician will be able to investigate the eyes and know the signs of a lazy eye condition. They can even diagnose before many of the signs appear if you take your child for tests on a regular basis.
Your optometrist will also offer treatments to help rectify the problem. This is important to protect against future health problems with the eyes.
Opticians will also want to look at the reason for the lazy eye. While the most common reasons are usually treatable through standard means, there are other problems that can occur. Your optician may notice that the light doesn’t pass through the eye properly for other reasons, leading to poor messages being sent to the brain. Your optician will want to rectify this problem before offering treatment for a full recovery.
How Can Lazy Eyes Be Treated?
A lazy eye is usually treated by making the stronger eye weaker. This helps to make the weaker eye work harder, helping to strengthen the muscle. Remember that muscles at the back of the eyes are just like muscles in the body. You need to give them a workout to improve the strength.
Artificially weakening that eye is extremely simple. Your child will usually be given an eye patch to wear. This covers the stronger eye, so the weaker eye has no choice but to work. The brain will be forced to listen to the messages that the weaker eye sends, helping to further strengthen that connection and the muscles.
An eye patch can be problematic for children in school that worry about bullying. Another way that optometrists can weaken the stronger eye is through eye drops. This will cause blurriness in the stronger eye, making the weaker eye work harder. The problem is that the blurry vision can be off-putting for some children, which is why the eyepatch tends to be preferred.
When the reasoning for the lazy eye is due to other vision problems, your optometrist will want to correct them first. Your child may be given eyeglasses to help improve the vision. Sometimes this is all that’s needed to correct the vision. An eye patch can be added to glasses, either as an eye patch you wear underneath or by darkening one of the lenses completely to make it impossible to see through.
If your child develops cataracts, your optometrist will usually recommend surgery to remove cataracts first. This is routine and safe and will help to improve the vision completely. You will usually need more frequent visits to the optician in the future to make sure cataracts don’t return.
Once the weaker eye has been strengthened, your optician will want to train both eyes together. It’s important to work on both doing the same amount of work to pass messages through to the brain. This will usually mean doing regular exercises to ensure the muscles and connections continue to work and develop at the same rate.
Is It Impossible to Treat Lazy Eyes Later?
There is some misinformation over lazy eye treatment in children over the age of six. Getting treatment earlier is the best option. This will help to improve the development in younger eyes and can help to improve the chance of full recovery. However, that doesn’t make lazy eye treatments when children are older a waste of time.
Children over six can still benefit from the treatments. While the weaker eye may not reach the full strength of the stronger eye, some improvement is better than none. This can help to prevent the weaker eye from deteriorating and prevent the brain constantly ignoring the messages.
The same applies to adults. Just because you’ve lived your whole life with a lazy eye doesn’t mean you have to just put up with it. You can get treatments and non-invasive therapy to help offer some strengthening to that weaker eye. This can help to prevent some of the health problems in the eye that can occur when you are older. It will help to improve the messages between the weaker eye and the brain.
It’s important to follow all optician’s orders when treating a lazy eye, regardless of age and severity. Your optician prescribes the treatment based on the development and strength noted in exams. Of course, an eye patch doesn’t always look great, but it’s much better for the long term of the health of your eyes.
Is There a Genetic Link?
Like many other conditions, there can be a hereditary link to lazy eyes. If you have or had one, then there are more chances that your child will develop one compared to those with no family history. If both you and your partner had or have a lazy eye, your children developing one is even more common.
However, there’s no noted genetic link currently in research. This is something that still needs more research to understand the full link.
What Can Happen Without Treatment?
If you don’t get the necessary treatment, the eye will continue to get worse. The stronger eye will keep doing all the work, while the weaker eye is left to wander. This can look strange but can also lead to some problems with vision and depth perception. Your child can find hand-eye coordination harder to develop and may walk into more things because they don’t have the depth perception.
Other health problems with the eyes can develop due to the poorer muscle strength. The brain can permanently ignore the messages coming from the weaker eye, even if you’ve rectified the reason for the lazy eye.
The best thing to do is to get the eye treated right away. You can talk to your optician about your child’s eyes before you notice the signs yourself to get the best treatment at the youngest age.