Is there a way to treat lazy eye if you are an adult?

The phrase "Lazy Eye" is used informally to refer to two different things medically: 1) eyes that look in different directions (strabismus), and 2) the inability to fully correct an eye to 20/20 (amblyopia) with a spectacle or contact lens despite no apparent anatomical problem. Since these often occur together, they are often confused.

The most common cause I see for amblyopia is where one eye in a patient has a significantly different prescription than the other. [The two eyes are usually quite symmetrical.] It is not as common nowadays because of better vision screening in elementary schools. But if this condition is missed or not treated ( patching of the good eye along with glasses correction) in childhood, the lack of full 20/20 correction may be permanent.

Why? Because the neurologic connection between the eye and the part of the brain that does the "seeing" needs to be formed through repeated experience while we are young. It is not there at birth despite the presence of the nerves! Odd as it may sound, learning to "see" is much more like learning a language than it is a passive perception. If we do not start to learn a language until we are adults, we will probably never be mistaken as a native speaker. The same process occurs in learning to see all the way down to the 20/20 line.

So, unfortunately, if your amblyopia is not treated while you are a child, it is almost impossible to successfully get rid of it as an adult.

_Written by J. Trevor Woodhams, M.D. - Chief of Surgery, Woodhams Eye Clinic