For almost 50 years there has been only one way to treat amblyopia (lazy eye) in children: patch therapy. Patch therapy consists of covering the eyes with cloth patches, alternating between left and right. When the stronger eye is covered, the weaker or "lazy" eye does more of the work and grows stronger. In minor cases of amblyopia, or when a child can't tolerate a patch, blurring eye drops (atropine) are used instead.
Patch therapy is highly successful, but even though it's a non-invasive treatment, it can cause a great deal of distress, particularly among younger children. Unfortunately, postponing treatment until the child is older and more cooperative is not recommended. Amblyopia needs to be corrected as early as possible, preferably before age 9, to prevent permanent damage and vision loss. Administering drops and patches to children this young has presented many challenges in the past, such as getting kids to accept drops, blurry vision and ugly, uncomfortable patches.
However, cloth patches and blurring eye drops may soon become obsolete. In November 2015, the FDA approved programmable electronic glasses - sometimes called the digital patch – to treat amblyopia in children.
These glasses feature liquid crystal display (LCD) lenses that can turn from clear to opaque, blocking the good eye and making the "lazy" eye work harder. Instead of blocking vision for hours-long increments, they go from opaque to clear in 30-second increments. Because the glasses are electronic, the interval between changes is completely programmable.
Benefits of the digital patch include:
- Less distress to kids: Because the lenses return to clear so quickly, they are easier for children to get used to than patches that dramatically alter their vision for extended periods of time.
- No more drops: Digital patches eliminate the need for blurring eye drops, which can be difficult to administer to scared young children.
- Less social stigma: Because they look like normal eyeglasses, digital patches don't create the social problem or questions that cloth patches do. There is less embarrassment or awkwardness in social situations, and they are easy to remove for school pictures.
- High success rate: Digital patches have an almost identical success rate in treating lazy eye as traditional patch therapy.
Although it's taken almost 50 years to develop this new treatment, digital patches eliminate some of the struggles that parents have experienced for decades. These glasses are a virtually effortless treatment that not only improve vision but reduce trauma and embarrassment for kids. If your child has been diagnosed with amblyopia, talk to an eye doctor like Quality Eye Care about whether the digital patch is an option.