What Is A Lazy Eye?
A lazy eye, also known as amblyopia, is a childhood condition whereby vision does not develop properly in one eye. It is extremely rare for amblyopia to develop in both eyes, although there have been cases of it. It affects approximately 1 in 30 to 50 children, with most diagnosed around the age of 4 years old.
A child with a lazy eye is often unable to see clearly out of the affected eye, which means that they rely heavily on the ‘good’ eye to see. If it is left untreated, the brain will learn to ignore the image produced by the lazy eye, causing permanent damage to the child’s vision.
What Are The Causes?
Our eyes work a bit like a camera. Light passes through the eye’s lens and reaches the retina at the rear of the eye, which is a layer of tissue that is light sensitive. The retina then translates the image into nerve signals, which are sent to the brain. The brain then turns these signals into the 3D image that we see.
A lazy eye occurs when the normal development of vision is disrupted. Children are unable to see as clearly as adults until approximately 5 years old. If one eye’s vision is affected during this developmental period, the signals sent to the brain become disrupted causing the 3D image from the affected eye to be distorted. This can happen for a number of different reasons, including:
- Misalignment between the eyes
- An unfocused eye
- A decline in light entering the eye
Symptoms Of A Lazy Eye
Unfortunately a lazy eye can be difficult to identify in children as it usually does not cause any symptoms, although you may notice that one of your child’s eyes looks different to the other. Young children often don’t realise that there is something wrong with their vision, but older children are more likely to complain if they cannot see clearly out of one eye and struggle with tasks such as reading or writing. This can be a symptom of other eye conditions that could lead to the development of a lazy eye, however. These conditions include:
- Childhood cataracts: this occurs when cloudy patches develop on the lens of the eye, causing blurred or misty vision.
- Refractive errors: this refers to when an individual is myopic (near-sighted) or hyperopic (farsighted). People with myopia struggle to see objects in the far distance clearly, while those with hyperopia find it difficult to see objects close to them clearly.
- A squint: this occurs when the affected eye looks upwards, downwards, inwards or outwards, while the ‘normal’ eye looks straight ahead.
To diagnose a lazy eye, your child should undergo regular eye examinations. It is recommended that children get a routine eye test at the age of 3 years-of-age, and then once every 2 years while they’re in education. Since it becomes difficult to treat a lazy eye past around 4 years-of-age, it is essential that your child is tested before then.
If you have any concerns about your child’s eyesight, you should visit your GP who can then refer them to an eye specialist if necessary for further examinations.
Lazy Eye Treatment
A lazy eye can be successfully treated in childhood if diagnosed early enough, around the age of 4 years old. Treatment for a lazy eye is a two-stage process: the underlying cause of the lazy eye is treated first, before the use of the lazy eye is encouraged to allow vision to develop properly.
Treatment can take several months before it is effective, and your eye specialist will advise you on which type of treatment is most appropriate for your child.
Treating The Underlying Eye Problem
- Prescription glasses: these can be used to treat both myopia (near-sightedness) and hyperopia (farsightedness). Your child’s glasses will need to be checked frequently to ensure that they are right for their eyes, and must be worn constantly in order to be effective. Glasses can also assist with straightening a squint, and in some cases can correct a lazy eye without the need for further treatment. Contact lenses can also be used in older children as an alternative to glasses.
- Cataract surgery: removal of cataracts from the lazy eye enables your child’s vision to develop normally. Cataract surgery is carried out under general anaesthetic, and takes up to two hours to complete. To find out more about this treatment, read our guide to cataract surgery.
- Squint surgery: the muscles around the lazy eye are either strengthened or weakened to change the eye’s location within the socket. This will not correct your child’s vision, but will simply help to align the lazy eye with the normal eye so that the two eyes can begin working together better.
Encouraging The Use Of The Lazy Eye
The second step is to encourage the use of the child’s lazy eye, and there are a number of treatment options to help with this:
- Eye drops: specialist atropine eye drops can be administered to your child’s good eye to dilate its pupil and blur its near vision, to encourage the lazy eye to function properly. The effects of the atropine eye drops are not permanent, and the vision in your child’s good eye will return to normal once the drops are no longer used.
- Eye patches: a patch with a sticky rim is placed over the good eye to force the lazy eye to work.
How Much Does Treatment Cost?
The cost table below shows you how much you should expect to pay for lazy eye treatment in the UK. The cost of treatment varies depending on what type of procedure your child has, with surgical treatments costing considerably more than non-surgical procedures.
|Type Of Treatment||Price|
|Prescription Glasses||From £69|
|Cataract Surgery||From £1995|
|Squint Surgery||From £1650|
|Eye Patch||From £5|
|Eye Drops||From £10|
You also have the option of paying for lazy eye surgery on finance. This is something most clinics provide to enable you to spread the cost of the treatment. This typically involves an initial deposit, followed by monthly instalments over a set period of time. The longer you take to pay the surgery cost, the higher the APR will usually be meaning the more you will pay back to the clinic. Visit our eye surgery pricing page to find out more about financing options.
Can I Get Lazy Eye Treatment On The NHS?
Lazy eye treatment is available on the NHS. Since the condition can lead to severe visual impairment (and even blindness) if left untreated, the spending of NHS resources to treat a lazy eye is considered justifiable. Lazy eye treatments such as cataract and squint surgery are therefore funded by the NHS, meaning you do not need to pay for them.
The waiting time for surgery on the NHS can be long, however: it can take up to 18 weeks to receive non-urgent, consultant-led treatment. If you do not wish to wait this long, getting treatment through a private clinic will have a much shorter waiting time of around 4 weeks. This does mean that you will have to pay for the treatment yourself, however.
Can A Lazy Eye Be Treated In Adulthood?
Although research into the treatment of amblyopia in adults is ongoing, it is increasingly difficult to treat a lazy eye in anyone over the age of 12 years old. This is because the visual disturbance in the lazy eye is caused at a neurological level. Once the neural pathways that allow you to see are fully developed between your eyes and brain, they cannot be altered. An untreated lazy eye in childhood will therefore persist into adulthood, with no amount of treatment being effective at restoring normal vision. This is why it is so important to seek medical attention for amblyopia in young childhood, when treatment is most successful.
Is Laser Eye Surgery Possible?
Whilst laser eye surgery cannot cure a lazy eye, it can be used to successfully prevent the development of a lazy eye in adulthood. Those who have one eye which is more myopic (near-sighted) or hyperopic (farsighted) than the other may be at risk of developing a lazy eye in later life, as the brain begins to ignore the image produced by the eye with greater refractive error.
While prescription glasses can correct this, they do not provide a long-term solution. Glasses can also be uncomfortable to wear due to the unequal magnification between the lenses which can lead to headaches and feelings of nausea.
In these circumstances, laser eye surgery may be the best treatment for correcting refractive errors in adulthood to prevent a lazy eye from forming, as well as reducing your dependency on glasses.
If you are interested in getting laser eye surgery, fill out the form at the top of this page and we will put you in contact with top laser eye surgery clinics in your area.