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The Lazy Person's Guide to Lazy Eye

By Krista Elliott

The eyes are really remarkable organs when you think about it. Capable of conscious and unconscious movement, they take in everything there is to see in our highly visual world. They allow you to see both approaching danger and heartwrenching beauty, providing a wealth of information for your brain to process. 

Sometimes, however, the eyes don't work exactly as they should. You might have heard of the term "lazy eye" before and wondered what it meant. Well, wonder no more! 

What IS Lazy Eye, Anyway?

Lazy eye is also called amblyopia (feel free to use that one during your next Scrabble game). Unlike common vision problems like nearsightedness, it's not easily corrected by glasses alone. Basically, lazy eye is when the sense of vision never fully develops in one eye. It occurs in early childhood, where it's estimated that 2-4 percent of children under the age of 6 have it. 

The problem with lazy eye is that if not treated early, vision will never develop correctly. Why is this? Well, during early childhood, the brain is still growing and developing. 

So, if the vision from one eye is blurry, the brain adapts. And it adapts by basically ignoring that eye as much as possible, relying instead on the clear vision from the other eye. And as the brain grows over time, fewer connections are made between the brain and the optic nerve on that particular eye, leading to permanent vision issues. 

How is it Diagnosed?

That's the tricky part. Because the "good" eye tends to carry the weight of vision tasks, the person may not notice that their vision in one eye is compromised. They'll only notice it if the good eye is covered. Sometimes lazy eye is accompanied by crossed eyes, which is a more noticeable symptom. But otherwise, the only way to reliably detect it is with regular eye exams in early childhood. 

How is it Treated?

How to fix a lazy eye? You force it to work. The most common treatment method for lazy eye is to patch the good eye, forcing the brain to use that eye and create more connections between them. Again, this tends to be most successful in very early childhood while the brain has maximum elasticity and is forming new connections at great rates. If patching is unsuccessful or if a recalcitrant toddler won't tolerate the patch, blurring eye drops in the good eye will also force the lazy eye to get to work (although, if you've ever tried giving eyedrops to a squirming, screaming toddler, you know that neither option is a walk in the park.) 

With regular and early eye exams, lazy eye can be quickly detected, giving your child the best chance at successful treatment. And hopefully the only laziness you'll have to deal with is when you tell them to clean their rooms. 

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