In a world that favours balance and symmetry, some people rely only on one eye, not because they’re blind but because the other eye has impaired vision. This condition is called amblyopia or lazy eye, which affects 3% to 6% of the population worldwide. Lazy eye treatment can help heal this condition if caught early.
People with a lazy eye have reduced visual acuity in one or both eyes caused by an abnormality interrupting a normal binocular vision. Getting regular eye check-ups is a way to catch a lazy eye early in childhood, as timely intervention can correct the vision. Learn more about the signs and treatment options you can try.
What is Lazy Eye?
A normal vision that produces the three-dimensional visual world around us is achieved from the line of sight in each eye converging at the right point, sending signals to the part of our brain that perceives vision. In the lazy eye, an abnormality interferes with this binocular alignment and interaction between our two eyes.
This usually happens early in childhood while the body is still developing. Very young children may not be able to tell their parents there’s something wrong with their vision since they can usually still see in one eye, thinking this is normal.
Over time, the brain essentially starts “ignoring” the lazy eye, making it “lazier”. Symptoms of lazy eye are not always obvious until it has progressed quite far. Hence, it’s important to take your child for regular visual check-ups to be able to detect abnormalities early and have them corrected before the condition becomes permanent.
Types and Causes of Lazy Eye
There are three causes (and therefore forms) of amblyopia:
Deprivation amblyopia (structural)
Disorder in the eye results in light not reaching the retina, thereby interfering with visual processing in the brain. Diseases that can lead to deprivation amblyopia include congenital cataracts, droopy eyelids, scarred cornea, and astigmatism.
Anisometropic amblyopia (refractive)
A difference of more than one dioptre between the eyes results in one eye becoming “lazy” because the brain favours the good eye. The patient could be either hypermetropic (far-sighted) or myopic (near-sighted), with the former being the likely cause of anisometropic amblyopia.
Strabismic amblyopia (crossed eyes)
When the eyes don’t move along parallel lines, the brain begins relying on one eye more than the other, leading to a lazy eye. Instead of both eyes focusing along the correct visual pathways, eyes become crossed.
It is also possible to have two or more types of amblyopia, in which case the diagnosis would be mixed amblyopia.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) recognises lazy eyes as a symptom of Deficiency. “In TCM, the eyes are considered the orifices of the Liver. Meanwhile, muscle development is associated with the Spleen. Since muscle imbalance is one of the causes of lazy eye, this condition is also associated with Spleen Deficiency. Another organ system related to this is the Kidneys,” explains TCM physician Lim Sock Ling.
Lazy Eye Treatment Options
Lazy eye treatment focuses on retraining the lazy eye by temporarily depriving the good eye so that the visual cortex in the brain is forced to learn to use the weaker eye.
Eye patch and eye drops
In the eye patch method, the good eye is temporarily covered with a patch for a prescribed amount of time per day.
Another method based on the same concept uses atropine or eye drops to temporarily blur vision in the good eye and force the patient to rely more on the weak eye.
Numerous studies have shown eye patches and eye drops to improve vision in the short term (within one to six months) and the long term (24 months).
Prescribing eyeglasses to correct vision is another common lazy eye treatment. This method is used especially for lazy eyes caused by refractive errors in one or both eyes. Very rarely, patients may undergo surgery to achieve vision correction. Diagnosing lazy eye early, before age seven, increases the likelihood of lazy eye treatment being effective.
Acupuncture is generally safe when administered by a registered TCM physician or acupuncturist. The common points recommended can be also used for acupressure massage at home:
- Cuan zhu (BL2, 攒竹)
- Jing ming (BL1, 睛明)
- Cheng qi (ST1, 承泣)
- Qiu hou (EX-HN7, 球后)
“Lazy eye treatment in TCM aims to improve circulation to the eyes. Acupuncture is used to re-engage the nerves between the eye and brain. Another option for children is paediatric tuina to boost circulation and help rectify the condition,” recommends Physician Lim.
As to the effectiveness of acupuncture, she highlights an earlier study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology in 2010, in which the effect of acupuncture is equivalent to that of patching for anisometropic amblyopia in older children.
Recent studies also support this finding, such as a 2020 study published in Integrative Medicine Research in which four patients were shown to improve their amblyopia after six months of acupuncture treatment. There are also recent developments in acupuncture, such as laser acupuncture, which uses a laser instead of needles as some children may be nervous being treated with needles.
Consuming herbs to improve lazy eye
Physician Lim explains that TCM also encourages the consumption of healthful herbs and foods to support lazy eye treatment. TCM herbs that improve vision include:
- Goji berries (gou qi, 枸杞): nourishes liver and corrects blurred vision and vision loss; rich in antioxidants
- Buddleia (mi meng hua, 密蒙花): Improves sensitivity to light and reduces excessive tearing
- Notoginseng (san qi, 三七): Repairs blood vessels in the eye and improves circulation to the eye. This herb should be used with caution if you have a bleeding disorder or are on blood-thinning medication
- Chrysanthemum (ju hua, 菊花): Clears liver fire and improves red eyes and blurred vision
- Celosia seed (qing xiang zi, 青葙子): Commonly used for treating cataracts
Physician Lim recommends the following foods in your child’s diet to help with lazy eye:
- Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, and lettuce. They contain powerful compounds such as lutein, zeaxanthin, and iron to lower the risk of cataracts
- Fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and trout are rich in omega-3 fatty acids
- Legumes such as kidney beans and lentils that are rich in zinc, nourishing the retina
- Eggs which contain a high amount of calcium, iron, zinc, lutein, and vitamin A to help prevent cataracts
- Citrus fruits are powerful antioxidants and a great source of vitamin C
- Specialty fruits like wild bilberry that promote blood circulation in the eyes to help relieve fatigue and improve eyesight
Left untreated, a lazy eye can lead to permanently compromised vision that can affect your child’s quality of life. Early and accurate diagnosis of lazy eye is therefore essential. Be sure to bring your child for regular check-ups to detect the condition early while it can still be corrected with different lazy eye treatments.
- Cleveland Clinic. 2020. Amblyopia (Lazy Eye). [Accessed 6 August 2022]
- MyHEALTH, Ministry of Malaysia. 2014. Amblyopia (Lazy Eyes). [Accessed 6 August 2022]
- American Academy of Ophthalmology. 2019. Amblyopia: Types, Diagnosis, Treatment, and New Perspectives. [Accessed 6 August 2022]
- The Cochrane Library. 2019. Treatment of amblyopia (lazy eye) with patching or drops/drug treatment. [Accessed 6 August 2022]
- The Cochrane Library. 2017. Acupuncture for amblyopia in children. [Accessed 6 August 2022]
- Integrative Medicine Research. 2020. Acupuncture for pediatric bilateral amblyopia. [Accessed 6 August 2022]
- Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies. 2016. Amblyopia: Can Laser Acupuncture be an Option? [Accessed 6 August 2022]
- Archives of Ophthalmology. 2010. Randomized Controlled Trial of Patching vs Acupuncture for Anisometropic Amblyopia in Children Aged 7 to 12 Years. [Accessed 6 August 2022]
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