Amblyopia is an abnormal development of the visual center (occipital cortex) of the brain during childhood. It is frequently unilateral but can be bilateral. Amblyopia, if untreated, leads to permanent visual deficits. The occipital cortex is plastic until approximately 8 - 9 years of age. This means that the predisposing factors that lead to amblyopia and treatments for amblyopia can only alter the visual potential for the occipital cortex during the first decade.
Amblyopia can be prevented by early detection. A child's eyes are examined at birth and periodically during the first year of life by his/her doctor. Children should again be evaluated at age 3 and 5 years.
Predisposing Factors: Obstruction of light entering the eye, such as a drooping lid (ptosis) and clouded lens (cataract) can lead to amblyopia. High refractve errors and ocular misalignments (strabismus) can also cause amblyopia.
Removal of any obstruction to light entering the eye, such as the surgical repair of pstosis and cataract, is the first step in amblyopia therapy. Spectacles to focus the image (correct the refractive error) is essential. Wearing a patch (occlusion) on the nonamblyopic eye is the most common form of therapy. This forces the brain to use the amblyopic eye and promotes maturation of the occipital cortex. Treatment of amblyopia is most successful at an early age and more difficult as a child reaches the age of 9 years.