The US Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) released a statement advising parents to have their children’s eyes scanned by age five to test for amblyopia, or lazy eye. Lazy eye usually develops when one eye has better focus than the other.
In one eye, the child sees a clear picture, in the other he or she sees a blurry picture—and the brain starts to ignore the blurry one. Symptoms include: a wandering eye, eyes that do not work together or poor depth perception.
Early identification of this problem is critical, as the condition can impair a child’s vision if it is not fixed by the time they are 10. If the problem is recognized while the child’s brain is still developing, it can be reversed.
The USPSTF recommends that children are tested before they begin school—between ages three and five. The doctor will check to make sure that nothing blocks the light coming into the eyes, both eyes see equally well and each eye moves like it should. If they detect a problem, the doctor will suggest seeing an eye specialist.
From there, treatment begins with forcing the brain to exercise the weak eye. Typically, the doctor prescribes glasses to correct nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism. Then the patient receives a patch to place over the strong eye.
Though it will be difficult for the child to see out of their weak eye at first, it is important that they wear the patch for however long it takes for the child to redevelop strength in the weak eye. The patch is eventually removed when the eyes are equally strong, enabling the child to see regularly.
Dr. Alex Kemper of Duke University Medical School released a USPSTF statement saying that “identification of vision abnormalities in preschool-aged children allows the abnormality to be corrected while the brain is still developing, which can prevent permanent vision loss.”
Photo: Naval Surface Warriors, CC-BY
Elizabeth Chambers is a health intern with Paste and a freelance writer based out of Athens, Georgia.