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Camera-Like Device Helps Detect Signs of Lazy Eye

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But Donohue tells WebMD that by hiring a full-time staff person to communicate and coordinate with the volunteers, parents, and doctors, the rate of kids who are followed up and get help for their vision problem has improved dramatically.

Another study of photoscreeners, conducted by Patrick Y. Tong, MD, PhD, of Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, and published in the same journal, shows that the devices may not be as accurate as some researchers think they should be. The article also points out that photoscreening results can vary according to who is taking the photos and interpreting them.

The handheld screener used by the Donohue team is not the only one available, but Kurt Simons, PhD, points out that lack of standardization does not permit the various devices to be compared in any true scientific way.

Still, Simons, of the Krieger Children's Eye Center at the Wilmer Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital, says although some people have jumped on the photoscreening bandwagon a little too early, if the devices are validated by future studies they could be used in a variety of situations by pediatricians, such as at the time of immunizations or well-baby visits, to pick up correctable vision problems before they worsen and become a permanent disability.

Both Simons and Donohue say that, if all the kinks are worked out, photoscreening could become more widely available and may even be done with computerized equipment that doctors could use right in their offices to get immediate results.

Donohue says educating parents about the seriousness of amblyopia is important to ensure that kids get vision tests as early as possible.

"If it's not picked up and not treated early, there's a possibility you may never be able to treat it," he says. "There's no set age that you have to treat it by, but clearly the sooner you treat it, the better." Ideally, he says, treatment for the weak eye should begin by age six.

Amblyopia sometimes runs in families. It may be caused by a misalignment of the eyes, poor focusing ability of one eye, or disease in the eye that causes vision to be cloudy or blurred. Treatment for amblyopia may include patching or covering the strong eye to force the child to use the weaker eye. Even after vision has been restored in the weak eye, occasional patching may be required to maintain the improvement. Glasses may be prescribed in some cases to correct errors in how the eye focuses.

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