New ways identified to treat 'lazy eye' in children: Beyond eye patches and daily drops

November 01, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- New research suggests a way to treat "lazy eye" that may be easier on children--and their parents--than current treatments.

Researchers at Saint Louis University and other institutions have found that atropine eye drops administered two days a week are as effective at treating amblyopia, or "lazy eye," as daily drops or an eye patch. The research was published today in the journal Ophthalmology.

"As anyone who has given eye drops to a child knows, this is good news," said Oscar Cruz, M.D., chairman of the department of ophthalmology at Saint Louis University and a researcher in the study. "It makes it much less of a hassle to administer the medicine, which is crucial for young patients to develop healthy vision."

Amblyopia occurs when the brain favors one eye over the other. The condition can be corrected by temporarily impairing vision in the "strong" eye, forcing the weak eye to work harder to compensate. This traditionally has been accomplished when a child wears an eye patch over the strong eye.

An earlier study by the same research group, known as the Pediatric Eye Disease Investigator Group (PEDIG), found that daily doses of atropine drops, which dilate the eye and blur vision, were as effective as an eye patch. Another study by the group found that eye patches could be effective when worn for only two hours a day, rather than six hours.

The combined body of research should enable doctors to make better decisions about treatment for their patients, Dr. Cruz said.

"A treatment that is tolerated well by one child won't necessarily be tolerated well by another," he said. "It's important for families and their physicians to have a range of effective treatment options."

In the most recent study, 168 children younger than 7 years old with moderate amblyopia were randomly assigned to receive either weekend or daily atropine. Patients in both groups showed substantial improvement in the eye with amblyopia. After four months, 72 percent of children in the weekend group and 73 percent of the patients in the daily group could read at least two more lines on the standard eye chart.

Bradley Davitt, M.D., associate professor of ophthalmology at Saint Louis University also participated in the research.
Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first M.D. degree west of the Mississippi River. Saint Louis University School of Medicine is a pioneer in geriatric medicine, organ transplantation, chronic disease prevention, cardiovascular disease, neurosciences and vaccine research, among others. The School of Medicine trains physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health services on a local, national and international level.

Saint Louis University

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