Lazy eye (amblyopia) affects approximately 2-3% of children under the age of 7. Unless treated early, amblyopia persists into adulthood and there is currently no treatment. The earlier the lazy eye is detected and treated, the greater the chance it can be corrected. Once beyond the age of 7, the eye is fully developed and will no longer respond to amblyopia treatment.
The primary treatment of amblyopia is occlusion therapy (patching), where the good eye is covered for a few hours every day (time can vary) in an attempt to make the lazy eye work harder and hence improve vision.
The younger the occlusion therapy is started, the better the chances of the vision improving in the lazy eye.
There are many causes of a lazy eye but the 2 most common reasons are:
- Squint (strabismus): A squint can manifest as the eye turning in or out and as a result of this it fails to develop properly leading to a lazy eye.
- Anisometropia: This is the medical term given to a difference in prescription in your 2 eyes. An example of this would be if your good eye has no prescription and your bad eye has a prescription of +3.00.
Both a squint and anisometropia have the same effect on your eyes when they are developing as a child. Put simply, the bad eye (squint or highest prescription) is not receiving the same visual information as your good eye whilst it is developing. As a result of this, the seeing part of your brain (visual cortex) does not develop properly meaning you cannot see the same detail as you can with your good eye.
Most people assume that a lazy eye refers to your eye being lazy but it is actually the visual part of your brain that has not developed properly. The actual lazy eye itself is the same as the good eye. It collects all the information via your retina (the same as your good eye does) and sends it to your brain (via the optic nerve), it is when it gets here that the problems occur. This is why there is currently no treatment for a lazy eye once you get beyond the age of 7. For this reason, most children are discharged from the care of the hospital aged 7 years old.
Lazy Eye & Laser Eye Surgery
Most people wrongly assume that a lazy eye can be corrected by laser eye surgery and this is mainly due to poor understanding of the condition. As it’s actually the brain that develops a problem with seeing and not your eye, laser eye surgery won’t correct a lazy eye.
The easiest way to understand what laser eye surgery can do for a lazy eye is as follows:
Laser eye surgery can give you the exact same vision that your lazy eye currently has with glasses or contact lenses. If you can only see halfway down an eye chart at the opticians with your glasses or contact lenses in, then following laser eye surgery you will still only be able to see halfway down the chart, only you won’t have to wear your glasses or contact lenses to do this!
Laser Eye Surgery On The Good Eye:
Surgeons are usually reluctant to perform laser eye surgery procedures on your good eye in the small chance that something may go wrong. Although the risks are rare, it still exists. If the surgery went ahead and something went wrong with your good eye, you may be left to rely on your lazy eye. Depending on how lazy the bad eye is, this may mean that you could no longer drive, carry on working etc.
Generally, laser eye surgeons will only treat your good eye if your bad eye is not profoundly weaker. All surgeons have slightly different criteria for this and you will only ever know for certain once you go for a laser eye consultation. But the most important thing to remember is that laser eye surgery can only give you the same vision as you can currently see with your glasses or contact lenses.