Lazy Eye Treatment Gets a 21st Century Upgrade With Digital Glasses

Forget those little eye patches.

It’s hard to believe, but there haven’t really been any effective advances in lazy eye treatment over the past five decades. Chances are that you or someone you knew as a kid had to wear an eye patch to treat a lazy eye, but that’s about to change. Kids will be able to bid adieu to the pirate look and don some cool electronic glasses to treat their lazy eye instead.

Researchers at the Glick Eye Institute at Indiana University recently ran the first trial test of a group of 33 children with lazy eyes, using two different forms of treatment: traditional patches and electronic glasses.

The most common type of visual impairment in childhood, lazy eye (or amblyopia) is the result of abnormal development that causes an eye to stray in a different direction or to become more nearsighted than the child’s dominant eye. Children need to be treated for lazy eye before they turn 8 or they risk further developmental damage of their eye and brain (and could go blind).

To treat lazy eye, children have had to undergo “occlusion” via patches or medicated drops in their “good” eye in order to help the lazy one catch up to speed. However, the occlusion method has caused generations of kids plenty of discomfort. Researchers noted that 25 percent of children who had to use the eye drops developed anxiety prior to having the medicine administered — some were so afraid of the drops that they couldn’t use that form of treatment at all.

But patches weren’t a walk in the park either, according to Indiana University pediatric ophthalmology professor Daniel Neely: “When you talk to adults who underwent childhood treatment for amblyopia, they will tell you that wearing a patch was the worst thing ever.”

Kids with patches and drops often still had to use glasses in addition to the occlusion treatment, but the new Amblyz glasses will be an all-in-one style treatment. This new “digital patch” could replace the traditional patches or medicated drops as a viable (and pretty cool-looking) treatment option.

The digital glasses, made with liquid crystal display (LCD) lenses, can act as both a “patch” and a pair of glasses all in one since Amblyz can be made with the kid’s exact prescription in mind. The glasses are also programmable, so they can create a digital patch that alternates between transparent and opaque over the wearer’s good eye in 30-second intervals (like the occlusion method).

Since Amblyz are non-invasive and don’t involve trying to get little kids to either take a bunch of drops to the eye or wear a patch for hours a day, children may be less susceptible to the anxieties and social stigmas associated with traditional lazy eye treatments.

Indiana University’s trial test brought kids from 3- to 8-years old together, with one group wearing the traditional adhesive patch over their good eye for two hours a day and the other group donning the digital glasses for four hours a day. After a three-month trial period, both groups showed similar improvement in treating the children’s lazy eyes, proving that Amblyz is a viable treatment option for kids. Both groups showed two lines-worth of improvement on reading charts in their lazy eyes.

A pair of Amblyz specs will set wearers back $450, but it sounds like it will be a worthy alternative to the potentially traumatizing effects of patches and drops for little kids with lazy eyes.

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