Research and technology advances in contact lens technology have provided new opportunities for treatment of amblyopia. Corrective treatment with contact lenses is effective for 77 percent of patients with the disorder.
Amblyopia, sometimes known as “lazy eye”, is a disorder of the visual system distinguished by poor vision that is significantly out of proportion to any structural anomalies in the eye. The term “lazy eye” is also sometimes applied to diseases like strabismus and exotropia where the eyes do no track properly due to a lack of coordination between the extraocular muscles, but those diseases are quite different both in terms of diagnosis and treatment.
Amblyopia is surprisingly common, affecting somewhere between 1 and 5 percent of the population. It is a unique disease in that there is very little physically wrong with the eye; the brain simply stops processing the visual input from the eye.
The good news for sufferers is that amblyopia is treatable, with a high rate of success, if diagnosed early. Since amblyopia tends to develop in childhood, early diagnosis while visual pathways in the brain are still being refined provide the best prognosis for successful treatment. Since amblyopia develops as the brain “learns” to ignore the visual input of the eye, treatment is accomplished by training a child’s brain to start processing input from the amblyopic eye once again. If left untreated, the visual pathways in the brain can become permanently fixed and treatment later in life is far less effective. Several therapies are available depending on the cause; all start with correcting the vision of the affected eye.
In rarer cases, such as refractive or occlusion amblyopia, surgery might be indicated, but most often treatment with spectacle correction or contact lenses will be successful for 77 percent of patients.
Using Contact Lenses to Treat Amblyopia
Eyeglasses can be difficult for children as they draw the attention of classmates and teachers to the disorder, which can trigger avoidance behaviors leading to a lack of compliance. Treatment by spectacle correction will do nothing for a child’s self-esteem and can be expensive.
Research and technology have come a long way and using contact lenses is the easiest and most economical option for treating the symptoms of amblyopia. Cosmetically, contact lens treatment is essentially invisible to classmates and friends which boosts the child’s confidence and increases the likelihood of treatment compliance. Contact lens treatment of amblyopia also reduces the need for exercises at home or additional trips for therapy and doctor appointments.
Treatment of amblyopia with contact lenses usually begins with prosthetic contact lensesthat are uniquely selected to correct the vision of the amplyopic eye and, if necessary, improve the physical appearance.
Sometimes additional treatment with patches and blockers for the good eye will be indicated but parents should be diligent about following care instructions as too much patching can lead to a condition called reverse amblyopia. Patients should be rechecked regularly as approximately one in four children will have a recurrence within the first year after treatment is discontinued.