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Amblyopia: Causes and treatments

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Amblyopia is poor vision that occurs when the brain ignores one or both eyes. 

This often means only one eye is being used. 

If not treated early, amblyopia may keep a child from developing normal vision.

Marshfield Clinic Eye Specialists diagnose and treat all​ eye diseases and conditions.

In most cases of amblyopia, the brain ignores signals coming from one eye.

Over time, the brain gets used to working only with the other eye.

The eye that’s being ignored doesn’t develop normal vision. Making the brain use both eyes and getting the eyes to work as a team becomes harder as your child grows.

Treatment may not work at all after age 10. So amblyopia must be treated as soon as possible.

Close-up of young child with blue eye patch over one eye.


What Causes Amblyopia?

Amblyopia has two main causes:

  • Poor vision in one eye, which prompts the brain to ignore the blurry pictures seen by that eye.

  • Strabismus, which occurs when a child’s eyes aren’t aligned (straight). The eyes don’t work together. This leads the brain to ignore one eye.

Treatments for Amblyopia

Amblyopia is most often treated by blocking one eye to keep it from doing all the work. The brain can learn to accept signals from the eye that’s being ignored. Gradually, vision in this eye may improve.

  • An eye patch is placed over the eye that’s being used. With this eye blocked, the brain is forced to start working with the eye it’s ignoring. The patch must be worn while your child is awake. Your child may not like wearing a patch. But remember that treatment will work only if your child wears the patch as often as instructed.

  • Medicated (atropine) eyedrops can be used instead of a patch. Drops are put in the eye that’s being used, blurring vision in that eye to keep it from doing all the work. This allows the eye that’s being ignored to start working with the brain. Eyedrops may be an option for children who don’t like wearing a patch. But putting in eyedrops can take practice.

  • Eyeglasses can help correct focusing problems. They can also be prescribed to blur sight in the eye that’s being used. This forces the brain to work with the eye it’s ignoring. In some cases, sight in one eye is blocked by sticking a patch or a filter to the inside of an eyeglass lens. As vision improves, your child’s eyeglass prescription may change.


Goals of Amblyopia Treatment

  • Correct the problem that’s causing amblyopia.

  • Make each eye see as well as it can.

  • Force the brain to use the signals from both eyes.

  • Make both eyes work together.

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