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Exercise for the lazy eye

Amblyopia afflicts more people than you might expect, but clearer vision is usually possible

Published on July 19, 2007

Among the multitude of ways that Bangkok's RSU Eye Medical Centre helps people see better is an operation to correct an ocular ailment as old as time and still persisting in the modern age - the "lazy eye".

Amblyopia, as the condition is correctly known, is the result of one eye developing insufficiently. Vision is reduced, and eyeglasses can't help.

"Lazy eyes occur when the part of the brain that develops the eyesight is suppressed in childhood, so one of the eyes doesn't have the chance to fully develop," explains RSU's Dr Chalao Pongprayoon.

Amblyopia generally begins at age six or seven, and isn't easy to pinpoint since the troubled eye seems normal. Sufferers may initially believe they're merely near-sighted, since long-range vision is fuzzy. They may also have difficulty with their depth of vision, and be prone to tripping over objects or, while driving, bumping into curbs.

RSU estimates that somewhere between two and five people out of every 100 are afflicted. Surgery is only recommended in cases of abnormal eye anatomy - crosseyed and the like. For others with lazy eyes, the treatment lies in exercise and corrective glasses.

Diagnoses can differ depending on the individual, so it's always best to consult an optician.

Twenty-six-year-old Unyanee Mooksombud has lived with a lazy eye most of her life, but did seek medical help when she was 12. "It doesn't have a big impact on my life," she says. "I'm still able to see. I've never seen an image clearly before, so I don't know what it's like."

Doctors attempting to correct what was then still a largely unknown problem began by fitting her with glasses of varying focal power, but none worked.

Finally one of them determined that the condition was a matter of weak eye muscles. He advised her to keep her good eye closed as much as possible so that the bad eye would get stronger. Unyanee tried her pirate patch, but she didn't keep it long.

"It's not that it's uncool - it's like you are some kind of a freak!" she says.

Sadanun Somachriyakul, 12, would agree. Like Unyanee, she's put up with her share of teasing.

She went to the eye doctor after her teacher noticed her frequent eye aches. She was promptly diagnosed with a lazy eye and given a pad to cover the good eye so the bad eye would get more exercise. She wears it every day after school for six hours and all day on weekends. It's often uncomfortable, but she says her vision is improving.

"Before, I had to wear a hat and sunglasses to protect my eyes from the sunlight, but now my eyes can stand the sun," says Sadanun, who also exercises the eye with a lot of reading and jigsaws.

While things look better for Sadanun - literally - Unyanee's sight may never be normal.

Dr Chalao warns that an untreated lazy eye could eventually go blind, but Unyanee is unconcerned because Lasik surgery and her eyeglasses have enabled her to cope. She does, however, suffer from some astigmatism, making it difficult to see lines clearly.

She only hopes that more people here will learn about the condition and understand what's involved. "In England most of my friends knows what a lazy eye is," she says, but that's not the case in Thailand.

Chalao points out that all children have an eye examination when they enter school, and lazy eyes should be detected and treated at that point.

Lisnaree Vichitsorasatra

The Nation

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