Lazy eye in children: Causes, symptoms and treatment

Lazy eye or amblyopia refers to a sight-related disorder in children. Find out the causes of a lazy eye in children.

A child’s health develops slowly through growing up years. Vision or sight is one of the aspects of overall health that needs attention. At times, there is a disruption in the normal development of vision during early childhood. It is a common condition called lazy eye or amblyopia. If left untreated, the weaker eye of the child may fail to develop normal vision. This may result in permanent vision impairment or lead to more health problems later in life. Read on to know the symptoms and causes of lazy eye in children.

What is a lazy eye?

Lazy eye, medically known as amblyopia, is a condition that typically develops during childhood and affects vision in one eye, says eye expert Dr Madhavi Majety. In a lazy eye, the brain tends to favour one eye over the other, leading to reduced visual clarity in the affected eye. It is the most common cause of vision loss in children, according to a 2022 research published in the Frontiers in Pediatrics.

A smiling girl with a lazy eye and spectacles
Lazy eye often develops during early childhood. Image courtesy: Freepik

What causes lazy eye in children?

Amblyopia is relatively common in children mostly because it often develops during early childhood when the visual system is still developing and maturing, says the expert. There are several factors that can contribute to the development of lazy eye in children:

1. Misaligned eyes

When a child’s eyes are misaligned, which means they do not point in the same direction, the brain may receive conflicting visual information from each eye. In response, the child’s brain may suppress or ignore the input from one eye, leading to amblyopia in the weaker eye.

2. Refractive errors

Significant differences in refractive errors such as nearsightedness or farsightedness between the eyes can cause blurry or distorted vision in one eye. If left uncorrected, the brain may favour the eye with clearer vision, leading to amblyopia in the less focused eye.

Also Read

Encourage your child to play outside! Know 11 benefits of outdoor play

3. Eye conditions or diseases

Certain eye conditions such as cataracts, drooping eyelid or other structural abnormalities of the eye can interfere with normal visual development and contribute to lazy eye.

4. Genetic factors

Lazy eyes can sometimes run in families, suggesting a genetic predisposition to the condition, says Dr Majety. Children with a family history of amblyopia or related eye conditions may be at increased risk of developing the condition themselves.

Which vitamin deficiency causes a lazy eye?

There is no direct link between a specific vitamin deficiency and lazy eye, as it is typically caused by factors such as misaligned eyes or eye conditions that obstruct clear vision. However, a well-balanced diet rich in nutrients is essential for overall eye health and development.

A girl with a lazy eye
Lazy eye may affect vision in one eye. Image courtesy: Freepik

What are the symptoms of a lazy eye?

Common symptoms of lazy eye in children may include –

  • Reduced vision in one eye
  • Difficulty focusing or maintaining visual attention
  • Squinting
  • Noticeable misalignment of the eyes.

However, some children with a lazy eye may not exhibit obvious signs.

How to fix a lazy eye?

Treatment for a lazy eye in children should begin as soon as possible, irrespective of the age. It should be treated on time, as children may have health issues in adulthood. Adults who had a lazy eye in childhood are more likely to experience hypertension, obesity, and an increased risk of heart attack, according to a March 2024 study published in the eClinicalMedicine journal.

The treatment typically involves correcting the underlying issues that contribute to the condition. This may include:

  • Prescribing glasses or contact lenses to correct refractive errors
  • Patching the stronger eye to encourage the weaker eye to work harder and develop better vision
  • Using eye drops to blur vision in the stronger eye temporarily
  • Vision therapy to improve eye coordination and visual processing skills.

In some cases, surgery may be done to correct misaligned eyes or other structural abnormalities, says the expert.

How to prevent a lazy eye?

While some risk factors for lazy eye in children, such as genetic predisposition, cannot be prevented, there are steps you can take to promote healthy vision and reduce the risk of amblyopia. These include:

  • Scheduling routine eye exams for your child, especially during early childhood, to detect and address vision problems early on
  • Ensuring prompt treatment for eye conditions or refractive errors that may contribute to lazy eye
  • Encouraging regular breaks from screens and outdoor activities to support healthy visual development.
  • Promoting a balanced diet consisting of nutrients for better eye health.

Early intervention and proactive eye care are essential to prevent and manage a lazy eye in children.