Treatment for lazy eye can help older children's vision

Vision improvement is possible in older children who suffer from amblyopia, commonly called lazy eye, UT Southwestern researchers have found.

A 10-month study involving 507 patients with amblyopia showed that glasses and patches could improve eyesight in children up to the age of 17. Results of the study at 49 sites across the country, including Children's Medical Center Dallas, appeared in the April issue of Archives of Ophthalmology.                                                                                   

Dr. David Weakley said a study at Children's Medical Center Dallas and 48 other sites nationwide showed that teenagers with lazy eye can still benefit from treatment using glasses and eye patches to improve their vision.

"This is the first solid evidence that, in a controlled study, some older children with amblyopia experience visual improvement through the use of patches and glasses," said Dr. David R. Weakley, professor of ophthalmology and pediatrics and chief of clinical service of ophthalmology at Children's.

Amblyopia develops by the age of 7 because of interference with visual processing in the otherwise healthy eye. Researchers estimate that more than 2 million of the United State's 73 million children under the age of 18 suffer from amblyopia, making it the leading cause of visual impairment in children.

For the study, researchers divided the 507 children into two groups according to their age. One group included 404 children ages 7 to 12. The other group had the remaining 103 children, who were 13 to 17 years old.

Doctors treated half of the younger group with eye glasses, patches and eye drops and the other half with just glasses. Of the children treated with more than glasses, 53 percent could read at least two more lines of the eye chart at the end of treatment. Of the children treated with just glasses, 25 percent showed improvement.

Among the teenage group, doctors treated half with glasses and patches and half with only glasses. Nearly half (47 percent) of the teenagers treated for the first time with glasses and patches could read two more lines on the vision chart, and 20 percent of first-time patients who received glasses alone could read two more lines. There was no significant improvement, however, in vision among teenagers who had previous amblyopia therapy.

"This study suggests that amblyopia therapy should be attempted in children aged 7 to 12 and in children over the age of 13 if they are first-time patients," Dr. Weakley said. "In spite of the positive findings of this study, the earlier the age that amblyopia is detected, the more likely the patient will completely recover. Amblyopia is more easily treated at a younger age because the visual system is more responsive."

The study was funded by the National Eye Institute.