You've likely heard that lazy eye, also called amblyopia, is an eye condition that must be addressed as early in childhood as possible or treatment won't be successful. More and more optometrists are discovering that isn't necessarily true. Advances in vision care are providing new methodologies for successfully treating this condition and restoring or improving vision in affected adults.
What Is Amblyopia?
With normal vision, the brain receives images from both eyes and merges them into one for a complete picture. If one eye has a vision disorder, such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, cataracts, or any condition that affects visual acuity, the brain will begin to ignore the image from the affected eye to avoid a blurry or double image. This is called suppression. Over time, the brain's visual processing for that eye declines, resulting in a "lazy" eye and vision loss. It can also lead to strabismus or turning (upward, downward, or sideways) of the weaker eye.
Why Is Early Treatment Important?
The traditional form of treatment is called occlusion therapy, or blocking the vision in the good eye to keep the neural pathway from the lazy eye to the brain from deteriorating. Without treatment, the affected eye can develop permanent vision loss. Usually, the earlier treatment is started, the more effective it is because the neural connections between the eyes and brain are still developing. This neural plasticity slows over time, reducing the ability to re-enforce these connections.
For many years, it was thought that amblyopia treatment would only be successful up to about 10 years of age, and treatment was rarely initiated after that point. However, recent studies have shown that neural plasticity remains to some extent much longer and that the pathways from eye to brain can be enhanced through occlusion therapy even into adulthood.
How Is Adult Amblyopia Treated?
Although there are no guarantees, many adults with amblyopia have been able to improve their vision to varying degrees. The three most common methods for achieving these improvements are:
- Corrective lenses ‑ Proper prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses can help the lazy eye function more efficiently so that vision pathways remain effective, reducing or stopping vision loss in that eye.
- Occlusion therapy – Patching the good eye forces the lazy eye to work harder, re-enforcing the visual connection to the brain.
- Vision therapy – This therapeutic program uses a series of progressive eye exercises to develop and strengthen the connection between the eyes and brain and improve a person's visual skills.
Although it may take longer than for younger patients, adults can usually achieve some visual improvement. They are often more motivated to stick with the treatments because they understand the consequences of doing nothing, as well as the potential rewards of therapeutic intervention.
For more information about which optometrist services can help with lazy eyes, contact a local optometry office.