Lazy eye remains the most common cause of visual impairment in children. General wisdom says the only ways to treat this condition are eye patches, eye drops or sometimes surgery.
However, a new study shows that electronic programmable glasses that act like a digital eye patch are just as effective as fabric eye patches for lazy eye. The results suggest this device is the first new effective treatment for lazy eye in half a century.
“This new technology gives ophthalmologists treating amblyopia another tool to use in restoring sight for these children,” said pediatric ophthalmologist K. David Epley, M.D., spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and past president of the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. “Patching can be difficult, and the more methods of improving vision we have, the more likely we are to be able to effectively treat every child.”
Lazy eye, also called amblyopia, is poor vision in an eye that did not develop normally during early childhood. This can occur when one eye is much more nearsighted than the other, or when one eye wanders or strays inward. The child needs to receive treatment by the age of 8 or so while their eyes and brain are still developing, or he or she could become blind in the weaker eye.
Unfortunately, getting kids to comply with lazy eye treatments like eye patches or medicated drops remains a significant challenge for both ophthalmologists and parents alike. Both drops and eye patches work based on the occlusion method. This blocks vision in the eye with the best sight, forcing the brain to rely on the so-called lazy eye. During the process, vision improves though many children will still need glasses to correct their eyesight.
The electronic glasses in this study combine both correction and occlusion. In the study, researchers tested the effectiveness of the digital glasses compared to patching and found them comparable.
They recruited 33 subjects with lazy eye between age 3 and 8 who wore spectacles to correct their vision. One group wore an adhesive patch for two hours daily. The other wore Amblyz™ occlusion glasses for 4 hours daily. In the study, the lens over the eye with better vision switched from clear to opaque every 30 seconds. After three months, both groups of children showed the same amount of improvement in the lazy eye, gaining two lines on a reading chart.
“When you talk to adults who underwent childhood treatment for amblyopia, they will tell you that wearing a patch was the worst thing ever,” said Daniel Neely, M.D., a pediatric ophthalmology professor at Indiana University who led the study. “With these electronic occlusion glasses, the child learns that the lens will be clear again in just a few seconds so they may be more cooperative with the treatment.”
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