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Lazy Eye May Not Be What You Think It Is

January 12, 2023

Do you know what lazy eye is? It may not be what you think.

Many people mistakenly think lazy eye is when one eye drifts. But in reality, it’s a medical condition that can’t be seen by the naked eye.

The good news? Both conditions are treatable when diagnosed correctly, says ophthalmologist Alan Solinsky, MD, of the Hartford HealthCare Eye Surgery Center in Newington.

What is lazy eye?

Lazy eye – known medically as amblyopia – is where one eye is weaker and does not see as well as it should. More common in children, the condition is typically diagnosed by a pediatrician or eye doctor.

Treatment can include a temporary patch on the stronger eye to strengthen the weaker one, or drops in the stronger eye to blur vision so the brain relies on the weaker eye and, hopefully, improves it.

“If it’s not corrected by the age of 11 or so, it likely will not get better and will stay the same for the rest of the person’s life,” Dr. Solinsky says. “The brain develops potential for vision by about age 11. After that, it is not as adaptable.”

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The condition it’s commonly confused with

Amblyopia is often confused with another condition called strabismus, which occurs when the eyes do not line up. One eye may drift or look in another direction than the other. This can cause double vision or headaches.

“Sometimes the conditions can co-exist,” Dr. Solinsky says. “The eye that turns may also not see as well.

Strabismus usually appears by age 3, but can be seen in adults after a stroke. Surgery or eyeglasses can correct this condition.

Personal experience

About 25 years ago, Dr. Solinsky says he was on a family ski trip, riding a chairlift in the fog with his 5-year-old nephew.

“I asked him ‘How many chairs can you see ahead of us through the fog?’” he recalls. “My nephew said, ‘With which eye – my good eye or my bad eye?’”

The boy had figured out he had a good eye and an amblyopic eye, but since it did not drift, no one else knew until that day. He depended on one eye at a time, and did not have good depth perception.

“He patched one eye and wore a contact lens on his bad eye. Within three or four years, his weaker eye worked much better. He has perfect depth perception and is one of the best skiers I know,” Dr. Solinsky says.

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What to watch for

If amblyopia, or lazy eye, is not as noticeable, he suggests considering the following risk factors:

  • Family history of eye problems
  • Presence of developmental disabilities
  • Premature birth or small at birth