"Because the daily burden to administer treatment for amblyopia falls on the parent, the findings from this study will immediately affect families that have young children with this eye disorder," he added. "The findings make it much easier for parents to monitor their children and encourage children to successfully comply with treatment. Timely and successful treatment for amblyopia in childhood can prevent lifelong visual impairment."
Having the child perform one hour of "near" work per day while wearing an eye patch was an important part of the prescribed treatment, Repka said. However, it remains unclear if the same amount of visual improvement would occur with patching alone. "We are planning a clinical trial to address the importance of near work in the treatment of amblyopia," he said.
Amblyopia, which usually begins in infancy or childhood, is a condition of poor vision in an otherwise healthy eye because the brain has learned to favor the other eye. Although the eye with amblyopia often looks normal, there is interference with normal visual processing that limits the development of a portion of the brain responsible for vision. The most common causes of amblyopia are crossed or wandering eyes or significant differences in refractive error, such as farsightedness or nearsightedness, between the two eyes. Without treatment compliance in early childhood, visual impairment can persist into adulthood.
Patching the unaffected eye has been the mainstay of amblyopia treatment for decades. In March 2002, Hopkins researchers also reported the effectiveness of a second treatment, using atropine eye drops that dilated the unaffected eye, temporarily blurring vision. Both treatments force the child to use the eye with amblyopia, stimulating vision improvement in that eye by helping the part of the brain that manages vision to develop more completely.