This was a very good thing indeed. Lazy eye blindness (amblyopia) is a problem that still affects thousands of Canadian children. It can be treated successfully in almost every case on one condition – treatment must begin in the preschool years. The earlier the better is the general rule.
Simple. Check with an ophthalmologist, a fully qualified medical doctor who specializes in the care and treatment of eye disorders. Ideally, children should be seen by an ophthalmologist before they reach three years of age, then once more before starting school.
Don’t try to diagnose amblyopia yourself. In its initial stages, when it is most easily treatable, only a properly trained medical practitioner can detect amblyopia.
Checking your child’s vision will cost only a few minutes of your time. As medical doctors, the services of ophthalmologists detecting amblyopia are fully covered by your provincial health insurance plan.
To understand amblyopia, you must know some basics on how babies learn to see. Seeing is just as much of a learned behavior as walking or talking.
A new baby only sees things to the side. The baby uses peripheral vision because the centre of the retina is not yet fully developed. During the first six months of life, vision improves until the child learns to see clearly and separately with both eyes. At roughly six months of age, a baby begins to look through both eyes. Just like an adult, the baby achieves binocular vision, seeing one image through two eyes.
However, one eye may be stronger than the other. Or, one eye may turn slightly in or out (strabismus) – so slightly, in fact, that it takes a special instrument to detect the difference.
When that happens, the child’s brain receives two separate pictures. To avoid confusion, the brain (a most adaptable instrument) ignores the weaker image. Unused, the weaker eye simply stops working. The child has amblyopia or lazy eye blindness.
The old wives’ tale about all children being cross-eyed is precisely that – a myth. If your child doesn’t have his or her eyes pretty well under control by six months of age, see your ophthalmologist. It is always important to report an eye that appears to be turning in or out to your ophthalmologist.
The eye patch is one treatment for amblyopia. It is simple and often effective if started early enough. Wearing an eye patch for a few months sure beats trying to go through life with one good eye.
The patch covers the stronger eye, forcing the brain to use the weaker one to see. It’s like aerobics for the eye. In time, the weaker eye becomes stronger, the imbalance between the eyes is cured, and normal sight is restored. Again, doctors emphasize that treatment must begin at an early age to be effective.
Both parents and children can find the eye patch treatment challenging. It isn’t easy to explain to a three year old why the patch has to stay on all the time. That’s why it is even more important to have the child checked by an ophthalmologist as early as possible. The younger the child, the less time treatment takes, and the sooner you, as a parent, can get back to normal.
Sometimes special glasses or surgery may be needed, depending on the situation.
The danger of amblyopia is that the child may appear completely normal. The following signs may indicate your child has a visual problem:
No! Don’t rely on these signs alone. A child has no way of knowing if he is having problems seeing. The only way to know for sure is to do the following.
Finally, please remember that properly prescribed eyeglasses can only help healthy eyes. If your child has amblyopia, glasses may only conceal symptoms until it is too late.