Open your eyes to Amblyopia – a hidden condition

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Stuart Kaill, former Orthoptist at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust and Haelo Project Manager, blogs for us during National Eye Health Week 2017.

It’s well known in Haelo that I come from a clinical background but actually, my background profession – orthoptics – is not widely known outside the ophthalmic world. Orthoptists diagnose and manage a range of disorders relating to eye movements and childhood visual development among other things. Anyone, though, who suffered as a child with a squint (a turn in the eye), needed glasses from an early age or indeed had to wear an eye patch to treat a lazy eye probably would remember going to see an orthoptist fairly regularly.

With it being National Eye Health Week, I wanted to tell you more about lazy eye (technically referred to as amblyopia). It’s a bit of a hidden condition that ultimately can lead to blindness later in life. Amblyopia is the failure of visual acuity (the ability to recognise detail) to develop in one or both eyes. This failure can be due to a variety of factors that deprive the eye of normal stimulus in the early years of development, the most common being a straight-forward squint and uncorrected refractive errors (not having the required glasses). Due to a ‘critical period’ of visual development, children under 7-years are at risk of developing amblyopia and early detection is imperative as generally, it is not possible to reverse the condition after this age. This is where it all gets very technical but if you’re interested in finding out more about amblyopia, information is available online.

Amblyopia is thought to affect approximately 1 in 25 children. Stating that amblyopia can be a major contributor towards permanent blindness may sound extreme but if you were to grow up with untreated amblyopia in one eye and then unfortunate enough to develop cataracts or glaucoma in your second healthy eye, for example, you would suddenly become significantly visually impaired.

For the majority of us, we can cope with seeing with only one eye, meaning amblyopia can unfortunately go undetected until late in life. Fortunately, in the UK, most areas provide orthoptist-led vision screening by age 5. If successfully detected at a young age, orthoptists can treat amblyopia with a combination of glasses, patching or eye drops. If you have a child under 5, be sure to take up vision screening (usually done in school) when it is offered.

If you are worried your child has not had their screening test you can always pop in to a high street optician for a free test or ask your GP to refer them to an orthoptist.

Stuart Kaill is Project Manager for the Safer Salford programme. Find out more about Safer Salford here or follow @SaferSalford on Twitter.

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