Even though amblyopia is generally considered a disorder of the pediatric population, we must not forget that, if left untreated, it will continue to impact one’s quality of life throughout their lives. According to studies, 1-3% of adults have a certain degree of amblyopia, mostly resulting from untreated or inadequately treated anisometropia or strabismus in their childhood. In some, the degree of amblyopia is negligible and does not importantly interfere with the quality of vision, but in others it can be pronounced to the point of basically having only one functioning eye. Whilst certain therapeutic options (vision training, perceptual learning) for adults do exist, they are nowhere near as effective as in children.
Table of contents
- What is Amblyopia (Lazy Eye)?
- Causes of Amblyopia in Adults
- How can Adult Amblyopia Affect Individuals’ Quality of Life?
- How to Prevent Adult Amblyopia?
- Treatment Options
What is Amblyopia (Lazy Eye)?
Amblyopia, commonly known as “lazy eye,” is a visual disorder that affects approximately 2-3% of the population. It typically develops in childhood when the brain favors one eye over the other, leading to reduced vision in the weaker eye. Furthermore, eyes do not work simultaneously, as a team. While amblyopia is often diagnosed and treated during childhood, there is a growing awareness of adult amblyopia and its impact on the quality of life.
Causes of Amblyopia in Adults
Lazy eye in adults commonly causes:
- A drooping eyelid,
- A cataract,
- A tumor, obstructing light from entering the eye,
- Considerable difference in refractive errors between the eyes,
- Strabismus (the failure of both eyes to align on the same target at the same time).
How can Adult Amblyopia Affect Individuals’ Quality of Life?
Cases of minor residual amblyopia usually do not cause a significant impact. However, this changes dramatically when the degree of adult amblyopia becomes more apparent.
Apart from experiencing physical or vision symptoms, people will often have to deal with the mental impact as well. Studies show that adults with residual amblyopia may experience various symptoms, ranging from glare to difficulty concentrating. They sometimes report difficulties in driving, reading, or tasks that require great perception of depth and good visual acuity.
Just as importantly, they are oftentimes extremely worried about the safety and health of their better eye, which can lead to anxiety. Sometimes they also deal with guilt if they had not complied with the treatment in their childhood or simply regret the missed opportunity of having been diagnosed and treated when they were still children. However, let us approach different influences more systematically below.
Visual Impairment and Daily Activities
Adults with amblyopia often experience reduced visual acuity, depth perception, and visual field defects. These visual impairments can pose challenges in performing everyday tasks such as driving, reading, and recognizing faces. Difficulties in depth perception may affect activities that require accurate distance judgment, like sports or manual work. The impact on these routine activities can lead to frustration, dependency on others, and limitations in personal and professional life.
Self-Esteem and Social Interactions
Living with amblyopia can have a significant impact on an individual’s self-esteem and social interactions. Adults with amblyopia may feel self-conscious about their appearance, particularly if their eyes appear noticeably different. They might avoid eye contact or feel anxious in social settings, leading to feelings of isolation and potential impacts on personal relationships. The psychological effects of amblyopia can manifest as social anxiety, low self-confidence, and a diminished quality of life.
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Amblyopia can also present obstacles in the workplace. Certain professions, such as those requiring precise vision or depth perception, may be more difficult for individuals with amblyopia to pursue. Job opportunities that involve driving, operating machinery, or tasks dependent on accurate visual perception may be limited. These challenges may require individuals to make career choices based on their visual limitations, potentially affecting their overall job satisfaction and financial well-being.
How to Prevent Adult Amblyopia?
Since adult amblyopia is more or less just a sequel of improperly or inadequately addressed amblyopia in one’s childhood, properly treated amblyopia in children is all that we need. Early diagnosis, properly prescribed treatment, and compliance to the prescribed treatment are key for everyone with amblyopia. However, if you already missed the early treatment, there are still treatment options for adults with lazy eyes.
While amblyopia is commonly treated during childhood, there are emerging treatment options for adults as well. Vision therapy, including eye exercises, optical aids, and patching, can help improve visual acuity and reduce some of the effects of amblyopia. The effectiveness of treatment varies depending on the individual’s age, severity of amblyopia, and compliance with therapy. It is crucial for adults with amblyopia to consult with an eye care professional who specializes in vision therapy to explore potential treatment options and determine the best course of action.
How Vision Therapy Helps Treat Lazy Eye in Adults?
Have you ever heard that you are too old for vision therapy and to improve your lazy eye (or amblyopia)? Well, studies show that this is not the case and that significant improvement is possible at any age with a correct treatment plan. The speed of recovery is the fastest for children who are at the peak of their brain plasticity, yet the brain does not lose its ability to retrain completely – it just loses speed! Vision therapy improves various visual skills.
Eye Teaming (Binocular Vision)
Vision therapy improves the ability of both eyes to work together as a team, enabling proper coordination and alignment for clear and comfortable vision. Stereopsis refers to the ability to perceive depth and 3D structure obtained on the basis of visual information. What is more, it is the measure of binocular visual function.
Vision therapy aids in improving the ability to shift focus efficiently between near and far distances. For example, smoothly following the ball in motion. It can address difficulties related to eye accommodation, such as blurred vision or eye strain when transitioning between different viewing distances.
Eye Tracking (Pursuits)
This refers to the ability to smoothly and accurately follow moving objects with the eyes. Vision therapy can help enhance eye tracking skills, which are essential for activities such as reading, sports, and driving.
Eye-hand Coordination (Spatial Skills)
Vision therapy enhances the connection between the visual system and the motor system, improving hand-eye coordination. This skill is crucial for tasks that require precise visual guidance of hand movements.
Refers to the act of directing and maintaining visual attention on a specific object or point in space. Furthermore, it is the ability to keep the eyes steady and focused on a particular target or location. Fixation is an essential part of visual perception and allows us to gather detailed information about the object we are looking at.
Saccades are rapid, involuntary eye movements that shift the gaze from one point to another. They are quick, ballistic movements that allow the eyes to quickly and accurately move between different objects or points of interest in the visual field.
Adult amblyopia can have a significant impact on an individual’s quality of life, affecting daily activities, self-esteem, social interactions, and occupational choices. However, it is essential to remember that there are treatment options available, and with proper support and awareness, individuals with amblyopia can lead fulfilling lives.
If you or someone you know is affected by amblyopia, we recommend seeking professional advice from an eye care specialist who can provide guidance and explore potential treatment options.