The number one cause of eyesight loss in children is amblyopia, more popularly known as lazy eye. About 1% to 4% of children in the United States are affected by this condition and while this disease usually results in loss of vision, several treatment options are available that may cure or at least mitigate this condition. Most of these treatments are effective, more so if lazy eye is diagnosed at its early stage. One lesser known but nevertheless very effective treatment is acupuncture.
What is amblyopia?
Amblyopia or lazy eye is an unexplained and sudden eyesight loss in one or both eyes. It usually takes place during early childhood. The child, in most cases, will possess one eye that is weaker, which is the lazy eye, than the other eye. Tests have revealed that both eyes are usually not normal and the stronger eye may even possess weak vision capabilities.
A child may develop lazy eye for several reasons. The two eyes differing in their capacity to see is one of the most common reasons. This may mean that the child has one normal eye that does not need corrective lenses and one eye that is either far-sighted (hyperopic) or near-sighted (myopic). The weak eye yields blurry images and over time, the brain will begin to rely on the normal eye and discard the images coming from the weak eye leading to the problem of amblyopia.
The misalignment of the eyes in the skull is one other cause of lazy eye. The look of the problem eye may be slightly turned to the side while the normal eye is looking straight. The term cross-eyed is commonly used for this condition. Both eyes send radically different images to the brain and the brain will suppress the transmission of one of the eyes in order to generate a coherent and clear visual image. The eye whose signals are discarded will eventually get weaker and slowly will develop lazy eye. Also, other eye conditions such as cornea impairments or cataracts can lead to lazy eye, as well.
Modes of treatment for lazy eye
If the treatment of lazy eye starts during the early stages of the disease, then it likely will cure the problem. Therefore, it is important to figure out as soon as possible whether your child has this condition. The problem with this disease is that it does not show any symptoms until loss of vision has already set in. For parents to know if their child is developing lazy eye, regular eye exams for their children are very much recommended.
Currently, occlusion therapy is the most popular form of treatment for lazy eye. This treatment is done by placing a patch over the stronger eye to force the weaker eye to develop and grow stronger. As with all types of lazy eye treatment, this therapy should begin at the early stage of the disease for it to be effective and produce good results. For a child under a year old, for example, a few months of treatment may be good enough to cure lazy eye but for an older child, results may be only seen after years of treatment.
The difficulty in following through is one of the biggest disadvantages of occlusion therapy. The child eye must wear the patch for several hours each day in order for this treatment to work. For a child this can be very difficult and frustrating since it severely limits his/her vision during those times. When wearing the patch the child’s vision is extremely blurry since he/she is forced to see using the weak eye. It is not uncommon to see these children removing or refusing to wear their eye patch. For school age children, wearing the patch can be a source of embarrassment as other children are likely to tease them for it and for the fact that they are unable to see clearly when wearing the patch. A lot of parents are forced to tape the eye patch in place which results in pain and irritation on the sensitive skin around the eye.
A side effect of eye patching known as reverse amblyopia may occur from this type of treatment. Children who need to put on the patch for prolonged periods of time everyday are the ones most likely to develop this condition. Emotional problems can also arise from patching. Parents, more often than not, are incapable of providing the necessary patching time each day which causes the lazy eye to only worsen.
Lazy eye and acupuncture in Bellingham
Just recently a joint study was conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shantou and the Shantou International Eye Center of Shantou University. The study involved acupuncture treatment versus patching in the treatment of 88 children suffering from amblyopia. Forty three children were given five acupuncture treatments each week and the needles were inserted on points on the leg, hand, and face. The other 45 children received patching treatment and had to wear their patches for 2 hours each day. The children wearing patches were also required to perform tasks that required the use of vision such as reading for at least an hour.
The study lasted 15 weeks. At the end of the study, both groups experienced improvements in visual ability. However, some interesting things were noted. The children who were given acupuncture treatments showed superior results than those who wore eye patches. The acupuncture group had an average improvement of 2.3 lines while the eye patch group only had a visual improvement of 1.8 lines. Moreover, about 41.5% of the children in the acupuncture group had a resolution of their lazy eye problem compared to only 16.7% from those wearing eye patches.
This study shows that Acupuncture is a promising treatment for lazy eye although more studies should be considered to confirm this. Acupuncture is much easier to administer and initial studies confirm that it is much more effective, or at least equally effective, as occlusion (patching) therapy.