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Normally, the brain processes the information coming in from both eyes equally. This is needed for the best possible vision. In some children, however, one eye is favored by the brain because it provides a better image. If this happens, the other eye is neglected from childhood on, and it does not get the chance to develop well. This is known as amblyopia or “lazy eye”.

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A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet].

Amblyopia

Lazy eye

Last reviewed: September 2, 2014.

Amblyopia the loss of the ability to see clearly through one eye. It is also called "lazy eye." It is the most common cause of vision problems in children.

Causes

Amblyopia occurs when the nerve pathway from one eye to the brain does not develop during childhood. This happens 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 (crossed eyes) 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. Also, people can have strabismus without amblyopia.

Other causes include:

Symptoms

Symptoms of the condition include:

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

Exams and Tests

In most cases, amblyopia can be detected with a complete eye exam. Special tests are not often needed.

Treatment

The first step will be correct any eye condition that is causing poor vision in the amblyopic eye (such as cataracts).

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.

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

Outlook (Prognosis)

Children who get treated before age 5 almost always recover vision that is close to normal. However, they may continue to have problems with depth perception.

Permanent vision problems may result if treatment is delayed. Children treated after age 10 can expect vision to recover only partially.

Possible Complications

Complications may include:

  • Eye muscle problems that may require several surgeries
  • Permanent vision loss in the affected eye

When to Contact a Medical Professional

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

Prevention

Identifying and treating the problem early prevents children from having permanent visual loss. All children should have a complete eye exam at least once between ages 3 and 5.

Special methods are used to measure vision in a child who is too young to speak. Most eye care professionals can perform these techniques.

References

  1. Olitsky SE, Coats DK. Amblyopia and its management. In: Tasman W, Jaeger EA, eds. Duane's Ophthalmology 2013. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2012:vol 1, chap 10.
  2. 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.

Review Date: 9/2/2014.

Reviewed by: Franklin W. Lusby, MD, ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • Vision screening programmes for amblyopia (lazy eye)Vision screening programmes for amblyopia (lazy eye)
    Amblyopia, commonly known as “lazy eye”, is the term used to describe a type of reduced vision that develops in childhood. Amblyopia is relatively common, affecting approximately 2% of children. If treated while the visual system is still maturing amblyopia can usually be reversed and normal vision restored. In most cases amblyopia only affects one eye so even quite severe amblyopia may go unnoticed by parents or caregivers. Screening programmes have, therefore, been set up to test children’s vision, in each eye separately, in order to detect the condition while the child is young and treatment is still possible. This review was designed to examine the evidence to see if such screening programmes are effective in reducing the prevalence of untreated amblyopia. The review found that there is currently not enough evidence to determine whether or not screening programmes reduce the proportion of older children and adults with amblyopia. The authors concluded that there is, therefore, a need for some robust evaluation of the screening programmes that are in place to see if they are truly effective or not. Any such evaluation would have to also look at how much screening programmes cost and what effect untreated amblyopia has on quality of life.
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  • Visual acuity test.
    Walleyes.

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