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Amblyopia (Lazy Eye)

What is Amblyopia (Lazy Eye)?

Amblyopia is poor vision in an eye that didn't develop normal sight during early childhood. It is sometimes called "lazy eye."

Cause of Amblyopia

One cause of amblyopia is strabismus (pronounced struh-biz-muhs). Strabismus is a condition where one eye turns inward or outward. The eyes cannot clearly focus on the same image, so the brain ignores the image from the turned eye. Over time, the vision in this eye becomes worse.

Another cause of amblyopia is when one eye has much better vision than the other eye. This can happen if there is a difference in glasses prescription between the two eyes or if something is blocking the vision of an eye, such as a cataract. The brain will get a blurry image from one eye and a clear image from the other eye. The images sent from the blurred eye are ignored by the brain and the vision in this eye becomes worse over time.

Some children have amblyopia in both eyes if they have a high glasses prescription or something blocking the vision in both eyes. Glasses can improve vision over time if caught early.


If not properly treated, amblyopia can cause:

  • Permanent vision loss in the eye with amblyopia
  • Loss of depth perception (seeing in three dimensions)
  • May affect future jobs (for example, becoming a pilot)


Common treatments for amblyopia include wearing glasses, patching, and using eye drops. All of these therapies aim to strengthen vision in one or both eyes. Early treatment provides the best results, since children’s brains and eyes are still developing.

Patching or Eye Drops

A patch is placed over the strong eye, which forces the child to use the weaker eye. As a result, the weak eye gets stronger. Your child must wear the patch every day. Eye drops are used in the stronger eye to temporarily blur the vision and allow the weaker eye to strengthen. The number of hours per day of patching or frequency of using the eye drops depend on the cause of amblyopia and the visual acuity of the child – your doctor will specify your child’s treatment plan.

Ways to Help Your Child Pass the Time

  • Using a close-up device such as an iPad or computer
  • Coloring, cutting paper, making crafts, playing with Play-Doh
  • Playing video games
  • Reading books
  • Having the child wear the patch when already distracted (for example, while playing, watching a movie, or eating)

Red Mark or Rash on Face from the Patch

Rub Aquaphor healing ointment or over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream on the irritation before bedtime to promote quick healing. To prevent further irritation, put a small layer of Milk of Magnesia (or similar brand) on the skin where the patch is to be applied. Then apply the patch on top of the dried Milk of Magnesia. This will protect the skin and help the patch come off more easily.

What if the Eye Starts To Turn In or Out?

Do not stop patching. Call your doctor.

Glasses and Treatment

If your child is wearing glasses, he/she should keep wearing the glasses during patching or before and after putting in eye drops.

Problems with the Patch

If your child has problems with patching, call your doctor; do not wait for your next appointment. There are alternative treatments, including eye drops. Talk with your child’s eye doctor for more information.

Additional Resources

Last Updated 05/2021

Reviewed By Kelly Morgan, OD, MS
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