How Vision Therapy Can Help Correct Amblyopia in Children and Adults
Amblyopia, commonly known as "lazy eye," affects nearly every aspect of your life. Reading, playing sports or even concentrating on a task for more than a few minutes become much more difficult when your brain ignores images from one eye. Fortunately, it's possible to correct the condition through vision therapy, even if you're an adult.
What Causes Amblyopia?
Amblyopia can occur as a result of:
- Strabismus. Strabismus (crossed eyes) occurs when the eyes are misaligned. The misalignment causes the brain to receive different information from each eye, which makes it difficult to produce a single, clear image. Eventually, the brain may "turn off" input from one eye and favor the other eye. Although surgery may improve the alignment of the eyes, poor vision can still be a factor. Once your brain ignores light impulses received from one eye, it won't recognize them again without a little help.
- Prescription Issues. Amblyopia can occur if the visual acuity (sharpness) in one eye is much better than in the other eye. You may also be at risk of developing lazy eye if you're farsighted and need very strong prescription lenses.
- Cataract. A congenital cataract, one that's present at birth, may also affect the information the brain receives from the eyes.
What Are the Symptoms of Amblyopia?
If you have amblyopia, you may experience:
- Blurred or double vision
- Difficulty seeing in three dimensions (3D)
- Poor hand-eye coordination and depth perception
- Trouble seeing words clearly unless you cover one eye, squint or tilt your head
- Poor academic performance
- Fatigue when reading
- Difficulty concentrating
Can My Condition Be Treated?
You may have been told that there's no hope for you if you're an adult who suffers from amblyopia. For many years, eye doctors and researchers believed that vision could only be improved if you received treatment for the condition during childhood. In fact, it was once believed that your brain couldn't adapt and change much once you became a teenager.
We know that's not true today. Although amblyopia treatment is most effective when begun in early childhood, teens and adults can experience significant improvements in vision with vision therapy.
Take Sue Barry, for example. Dubbed "Stereo Sue" by neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks, Sue spent much of her life viewing the world in only two dimensions due to amblyopia. After beginning vision therapy, she was finally able to see in 3D. Therapy spurred her brain to form new neural connections that made 3D vision possible.
In a study conducted at the University of California at Berkeley, adults who had amblyopia noticed an improvement in both 3D depth perception and visual acuity after vision therapy. During the study, they played video games while their "good" eyes were patched.
Vision therapy is also an excellent option for young children who have amblyopia, as it can reduce or eliminate the need to patch the good eye or use drops to blur the vision in the good eye.
What is Vision Therapy and How Can It Help Me?
Vision therapy improves the connection between your brain and eyes. During therapy, you'll participate in games and activities designed to convince your brain to recognize the impulses from your "bad" eye.
Video games may be part of your therapy. One game specifically designed for people who have amblyopia takes advantage of virtual reality technology. Before you play the game, your goggles will be adjusted to decrease the signal strength in your good eye. As a result, your brain will pay more attention to impulses received from the bad eye.
If you have amblyopia, vision therapy can truly change your life. You may finally be able to see clearly, catch a ball, read a few chapters in a book without becoming tired, appreciate 3D movies and judge distances when driving more accurately.
Would you like to find out if you're a good candidate for vision therapy? Contact our office to schedule a comprehensive vision examination.
The New Yorker: Stereo Sue, 6/11/06
Journal of Vision: Action Video Games as a Treatment of Amblyopia in Children: A Pilot Study of a Novel, Child-Friendly Action game, 8/14
American Optometric Association: Video-Game Vision Therapy, 4/16
Review of Optometry: Managing Ambylopia: Can Vision Therapy Cut It?, 10/15/17