Lazy eye, or amblyopia, is a medical condition that affects 2-3 out of every 100 kids in the U.S. It's when one eye isn't able to see as clearly as the other, and it's the most common visual impairment among kids. Right now, the treatment for amblyopia is for a child to wear a patch over the strong eye to improve the vision in the weaker eye. As you can imagine, kids hate the patches. But a new study shows that there may be a faster and more fun method of treatment — watching movies.
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There are lots of potential causes for amblyopia such as near- or farsightedness, astigmatism (the abnormal shape of the cornea,) strabismus (misalignment of the eyes) or a cataract (which can cause a cloudiness of vision.) When one eye sees much better than the other, the brain has a tendency to "turn off" the wiring to the eye with the poor vision, thus causing the lazy eye. Regardless of the cause, the treatment has always been the same: Place a patch over the unaffected eye for several weeks or months to improve the vision of the eye that is not seeing as clearly.
But researchers from the Retina Foundation of the Southwest have found a new method that will have kids with amblyopia cheering. Instead of patches, kids can watch movies. But not just any movies, dichoptic movies that show different visual stimuli to each eye.
Dichoptic treatments have been used in the past to treat amblyopia, but the differing images were used in combination with worksheets or other learning tasks. Kids got bored with these tasks quickly. Plus, compliance was low when kids were asked to do the tasks at home. So researchers weren't necessarily looking for a new treatment option, but rather a way to accomplish it in a way that kids bought into. They found success in animated movies.
For the study, researchers asked eight children aged 4 to 10 to watch three dichoptic movies each week for two weeks. The only catch was that they had to wear special 3-D glasses so that each eye could be shown different images during the film. This allowed messages from both eyes to be sent to the brain. The researchers also turned up the contrast on the amblyopic eye to ensure that the brain would see those images.
After two weeks, all of the kids had significant improvements in their vision.
"Children achieved one to four lines of improvement in visual acuity with just six sessions (9 hours) of dichoptic movie viewing over 2 weeks," said Dr. Birch, the lead researcher for the study. In comparison, Birch noted that kids usually only see one line of improvement after six months of treatment with patches.
That's good news for researchers and great news for kids.