Amblyopia - An introduction to a common and confusing problem

Let me introduce you to one of the  most commonly misunderstood eye disorders that occurs in children and can continue into adulthood: amblyopia. Why is amblyopia so confusing? The biggest problem is that it’s hard to explain in a way that makes sense to everyone. So let’s hunker down and understand what amblyopia is.

Amblyopia is often also called lazy eye. This is horribly confusing because strabismus (where the eye turns in, out, up or down all or most of the time) is also commonly called a lazy eye. While an eye turn can lead to amblyopia, it doesn’t always and many people have amblyopia without an eye turn. Confused yet? What is amblyopia then? Officially it is decreased vision, even with glasses on, without any other disease or health problem being present. To really understand amblyopia though we need to know where it comes from. Remember that when we are born we don’t see perfectly well! In fact our eyes develop and learn how to see from the time we’re born until we are about eight years old.

There are two types of amblyopia. One type is called refractive  (meaning related to the prescription) the other type is called strabismic (meaning that there is an eye turn). The prescription related type of amblyopia is almost always caused by either very high amounts of farsightedness or very high amounts of astigmatism that have not been corrected with glasses. Sometimes this will happen in only one eye but it will often happen in both. The problem is that if you have a very large amount of farsightedness or astigmatism it’s not possible to see well at any distance.  Strabismic amblyopia occurs when an eye is always turned out or turned in. Since that eye is always off to the side our brain edits out any images from it and it doesn’t get used. This is a great example of use it or lose it! Remember that when we are young our eyes are still learning how to see. If during that time, when we are learning how to see, our eyes never have a clear image (or just isn't used!) we never develop the ability to see as well as we should. To put it another way imagine you had two potted flowers. One flower you diligently watered and fertilized every day but the other flower you more or less ignored. Even if they started out with the same potential the flower that got taken care of would thrive while the other would wither away. Eyes are obviously not exactly the same but an eye that gets daily stimulation with sharp clear images will learn and develop much better than an eye that doesn’t.

So what do we do about it? I'll cover how we treat amblyopia in my next blog! Until then if you want to read more feel free to check out the following links or as always contact us on Twitter, Facebook, Google + or via our website or phone us at (403) 474-6744.

Doctors of Optometry Canada - Amblyopia

Mayo Clinic - Amblyopia