Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Amblyopia (lazy eye)

3-minute read

Around 1 in every 50 Australian children have ‘lazy eye’, or amblyopia. Early diagnosis and treatment with glasses, contact lenses or eye patches can prevent long-term vision problems.

What is amblyopia?

Amblyopia is a condition where one eye develops abnormally in early life. The weak or ‘lazy’ eye often wanders inwards or outwards. In rare cases, both eyes can be affected. If left untreated, amblyopia can lead to permanent vision loss in the affected eye.

The condition usually occurs in children between birth and age 7 and is the leading cause of decreased vision in one eye in children. Amblyopia is more common in small or premature babies, or children with a family history of the condition.

Causes of amblyopia

Amblyopia develops when one eye receives weaker visual signals in early life. Because the brain receives these fewer visual signals, it starts to ignore input from that eye and so the eyes do not work together properly.

Amblyopia can be caused by anything that blurs a child’s vision or causes crossed eyes. Common causes include:

  • an imbalance in the muscles that position the eyes (known as strabismus)
  • a difference in the sharpness of vision between the eyes (refractive anisometropia)
  • an imperfection on the surface of the eye (astigmatism)
  • any problem with one eye, such as a cloudy area in the lens (cataract).

Symptoms of amblyopia

Signs that your child might have amblyopia include:

  • eyes that don’t seem to work together
  • an eye that wanders inwards or outwards
  • squinting or shutting one eye
  • head tilting
  • poor depth perception.

See a doctor if you notice your baby’s eye wandering any time after the first few weeks following birth. It is also a good idea to have your child’s eyes tested before they start school.

Diagnosing amblyopia

Amblyopia is diagnosed using an eye test given by a doctor, community nurse, optometrist or ophthalmologist.

Treating amblyopia

The earlier treatment starts, the better the outcome. This is because it is important to correct amblyopia while the connections between the eyes and the brain are forming.

The type of treatment will depend on the cause of amblyopia and whether it is affecting your child’s vision. Some options include:

  • glasses or contact lenses to correct conditions such as near-sightedness, far-sightedness and astigmatism
  • an eye patch over the stronger eye to stimulate the weaker eye
  • a special filter to blur the vision of the stronger eye and stimulate the weaker eye
  • eye drops to blur the vision of the stronger eye
  • surgery if your child’s eyes are wandering, or to correct cataracts or droopy eyelids.

The treatment usually works within several weeks or months, although it can continue for up to 2 years.

In 25 per cent of cases, amblyopia can return. It’s therefore important to continue to monitor your child’s eyes after the treatment stops.

Last reviewed: September 2017

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Amblyopia (lazy eye) - myDr.com.au

Amblyopia (sometimes also known as lazy eye ) affects about 3 per cent of children. Read about the causes and treatment for amblyopia.

Read more on myDr website

Eyes - Your babys eyes | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

The Eye Light enters the eye through the cornea, the clear outer skin or window at the front of the eye

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Gaming and Childhood Development | myVMC

In recent years, there has been an explosion in the number of games, both console games and online games. The effects of these gaming activities on childhood development and the subsequent adulthood consequences remain largely unknown.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Visual Evoked Potential (VEP) | myVMC

A visual evoked potential is an evoked potential caused by a visual stimulus, such as an alternating checkerboard pattern on a computer screen. Responses are recorded from electrodes that are placed on the back of your head and are observed as a reading on an electroencephalogram (EEG).

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Eye examinations (visual field testing) | myVMC

Eye examinations: Visual field testing is the process of having the eyes examined for visual field defects or for monitoring changes in vision.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Eye Exercises: Visual Training for Eye Disorders | myVMC

Eye exercises: Visual training is the practice of exercising the eyes with the aim of overcoming vision disorders. Eye exercises are also commonly used to relieve the eyes after long periods of focused vision.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

DBL Sodium Nitroprusside Concentrated Injection - myDr.com.au

DBL Sodium Nitroprusside Concentrated Injection - Consumer Medicines Information leaflets of prescription and over-the-counter medicines

Read more on myDr – Consumer Medicine Information website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo