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Health & Pregnancy

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Drops as Good as Patch for 'Lazy Eye'

WebMD Health News

March 13, 2002 -- Eye drops work just as well as wearing an eye patch to correct amblyopia --commonly known as "lazy eye" -- in children, according to a new study. Although this first head-to-head comparison of the two treatments found they work equally well, researchers say the eye drops may soon become the preferred choice of parents.

Amblyopia leads to impaired vision in an otherwise healthy eye because the brain has learned to favor the other eye. An eye with amblyopia looks normal, but there is a problem with the way the brain processes the visual information it supplies. The condition commonly occurs when the eyes are crossed or misaligned or when there is a significant difference in refractive vision, such as farsightedness or nearsightedness, between the two eyes.

The problem usually develops early in life, and treatment is recommended before age 8. Until now, most eye care professionals treated it by placing a patch over the unaffected eye, forcing the child to use the lazy eye and helping the part of the brain that manages sight to develop more fully.

In the study, published in the March issue of Archives of Ophthalmology, researchers compared the effectiveness of this standard patch therapy with use of an atropine eye drop. The once-a-day drop works by temporarily blurring vision in the unaffected eye. That prompts the child to use the lazy eye, which helps develop strength and improve vision.

Researchers say visual sharpness in the affected eye improved by 79% in children who wore a patch and by 74% among those who received the drops. Although both sets of parents say their children tolerated their treatments well, the parents of the atropine drop group were more satisfied with the treatment.

"With atropine, you simply put the drop in once in the morning and there's not more monitoring of the child for the day," says study author Michael X. Repka, MD, of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and Wilmer Eye Institute, in a news release. "With the patch, children have to be monitored since they often remove the patch."

The authors say parents and children are more likely to comply with a therapy that is easier to use, and say the drops may soon become the standard treatment for some forms of amblyopia. According to the National Eye Institute, the condition affects about 3% of Americans.

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