Understanding the effects of distorted vision in people with amblyopia

Research details

  • Type of funding: PhD Studentship
  • Grant Holder: Professor Anita Simmers
  • Institute: Glasgow Caledonian University
  • Region: Scotland
  • Start date: October 2011
  • End Date: September 2014
  • Priority:
  • Eye Category:


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

Amblyopia usually happens because of strabismus (crossed eyes) or because one eye focuses better than the other. The problems mean that the visual parts of the brain don’t get normal input as the child develops. Left untreated, the problems become permanent.

In the past it was thought that amblyopia could be understood in terms of having clear vision such as the ability to read letter charts (visual acuity) but newer research suggests that amblyopia affects more complex processes that involve how our brains recognise movement, shapes and objects.

In this project, then PhD student Marianne Piano used new techniques such as 3D monitors, stereo ‘shutter’ glasses and eye-tracking technology to measure, monitor and correct visual distortions in children. The aim was to understand more about how complex visual processes are affected by amblyopia and to find out whether eye patch treatment works for all aspects of vision.
  • Scientific summary

    Perceptual visual distortions in human amblyopia and the effects of occlusion therapy

    The most common cause of visual impairment in childhood is amblyopia or ‘lazy eye.’ Animal models of amblyopia have been developed, but little is known about the neural basis of the disorder in humans. This lack of neural characterisation severely hinders clinical efforts to provide an effective treatment or cure. Low-level deficits in amblyopia are well documented, but these have been shown to be insufficient to account for the perceptual distortions that occur. Current work has shown global processing deficits of both form and motion that cannot be attributed to poor visibility and raises the intriguing possibility that the perceptual anomalies reported in amblyopia may arise from anomalous higher-level integration processes, beyond striate cortex.

    Recent animal studies show that correlated binocular vision is essential for successful recovery from experimentally induced amblyopia. The uncorrected monocular visual distortions in amblyopia de-correlate binocular vision, suggesting that they may play a critical role in both the development of amblyopia and outcomes of treatment that are currently overlooked.

    This investigation examines visual distortions throughout the course of standard clinical treatment, without modification of therapy, in order to study their prevalence, their role in the prognosis of amblyopia treatment and the recovery of visual function in a juvenile population. The technology developed in this proposal will be applied in a computer game-based therapy that will be evaluated as a potential binocular approach to treatment.
  • Research update

    The team was able to diagnose and measure distorted vision in children with lazy eye (amblyopia) for the first time, using a new 3D computer test. They found distorted vision is quite common in children with lazy eye (over half of the 80+ children we tested), even those who had equal vision in each eye after treatment and would be considered ‘cured’.

    Unfortunately they were unable to identify an effective way to correct for these distortions to try and improve how the brain sees particular shapes (what’s known as ‘form vision’). This was because the distortions weren’t always just a case of seeing things in the ‘wrong’ position, but also because the objects moved around. This makes it hard to correct for the amount the position has shifted due to distortion, as it varies.

    Most children will not be aware that their vision is distorted because the brain does a good job of ‘covering it up’ based on their knowledge of what something is supposed to look like, and the team didn’t find any bad effects that could impact on the results of treatment for lazy eye even when the children had severe distortions.

    But the research shows that the current treatments for lazy eye might let your child read an eye chart easily with both eyes at the other end of it, but do not completely resolve the other problems with seeing that might occur with lazy eye, like distorted vision.

    The distortions they found were closely linked to how well the eyes worked together (binocular vision, such as depth perception) and how big a squint (strabismus) or other drift of the eyes there was, if any. Children with better binocular vision and a smaller squint were less likely to have severe distortions of their vision. So lazy eye treatments focused on allowing the eyes to work together, or encouraging them to work together more than they used to, while still improving the vision in the lazy eye, may be a good direction to aim in for the future. Some researchers are already working on ‘binocular’ treatments for lazy eye using computer games.
  • Publications