Amblyopia (lazy eye)

What is it?

Amblyopia (or ‘lazy eye’) is a condition in which one or both eyes have poor vision without there being a problem with the physical structure of the eye itself. It’s the most common problem with vision in children. About 2-3 per 100 people are affected.

  • Causes

    Amblyopia happens when the brain ignores one eye and relies more heavily on the other. This is usually because of a difference in glasses prescription between the two eyes – the brain prefers the eye with the naturally sharper vision. Another cause is strabismus (squint), when the eyes are not aligned.

    When this happens, the visual parts of the brain don’t get normal input as the child grows up. It can lead to permanent sight loss if left untreated.

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms of amblyopia include problems judging depth or distance. It may be difficult to sense contrast or motion. This can make people clumsy or make it hard to play sports or catch a ball. 

    There may also be psychological effects, such as lower self-esteem. Children with amblyopia may also be more at risk of being bullied.

  • Treatments

    At the moment treatment involves wearing corrective glasses and wearing a patch on the ‘good’ eye for a few hours a day until the visual development is complete. This means the brain has to use the ‘bad’ eye. Alternatively, eye drops can be used to blur vision in the good eye. 

    Current treatments are more successful the younger the child is when the problem is picked up.

  • Research

    Amblyopia research aims to improve treatments and understand more about how the brain processes vision. In the past, it was thought of in terms of the ability to read letter charts (visual acuity). But newer research suggests that it’s more complex and involves the way our brains recognise movement, shapes and objects. Fight for Sight research has also shown that it may be possible to improve vision even in adults with amblyopia, for example with video gaming.

  • Clinical trials

    You could play an important part in eye research by being a participant in clinical research study that may benefit many people. You could even help shape clinical research by becoming more actively involved and having a say. Patients, carer, or anyone with an interest can help.

    What are clinical trials

    Clinical trials are research studies that find out if a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. They are a key research tool for improving medical knowledge and patient care. The people who carry out research are mostly the same doctors and healthcare professionals who treat people. Their aim is to find better ways of treating patients and keeping people healthy.

    Taking part

    Here are some ways to find out about research projects and clinical trials that you can get involved in.

    UK Clinical Trials Gateway

    The UK Clinical Trials Gateway run by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) provides easy to understand information about clinical research trials running in the UK, and gives to a large range of information about these trials. It is designed to enable patients and clinicians to locate and contact trials of interest. Visit their website and select the eye condition that you are interested in.

    NIHR Clinical Research Network Portfolio

    The NIHR Clinical Research Network Portfolio is a database of high-quality clinical research studies in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Within this the Ophthalmology Specialty Group supports a national portfolio of research studies in ophthalmology and the vision sciences. See their website for details.

    If you wish to join a trial it is always best to discuss this with your doctor or clinical team first.

Last updated September 2015
Approved by Dr Annegret Dahlmann-noor, Moorfields Eye Hospital

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