children reading

Children with Amblyopia Read More Slowly Than Kids with Normal Vision, Study Finds

At Envision Optical we see patients daily who have questions relating to their children’s vision and academic results at school. Amblyopia is a condition that we commonly see. According to a new study children with amblyopia make more corrective eye movements while reading and read slower than normally sighted children. The prevalence of Amblyopia in childen in Australia is reported to be as high as 3.6%*

What is Amblyopia

Amblyopia, commonly called lazy eye, is a condition in children when vision does not develop properly, usually in one eye. If it’s left untreated, a child’s vision will never develop correctly in the affected eye. Vision impairment becomes permanent, because as the child’s brain matures, it will “ignore” the image coming from the poorly seeing eye. That’s why it’s essential to have a child with amblyopia regularly tested by an Optometrist.

What Causes Amblyopia?

Amblyopia usually starts when one eye has much better focus than the other eye. For example, one eye might be very farsighted or have a lot of astigmatism, while the other does not. When a child’s brain is confronted with both a blurry image and a clear one, it begins to ignore the blurry image. If this goes on for months or years in a young child, the vision in the eye that sees the blurry image will deteriorate. Another cause of amblyopia is strabismus, which is an ocular misalignment, meaning that one eye turns inward or outward. This prevents the eyes from focusing together on an image and may cause double vision. To combat this, the child’s brain generally chooses to ignore the image from the deviated eye, causing the vision in that eye to deteriorate. It’s this misalignment of the eyes that leads some people to call amblyopia “lazy eye.”

In research conducted by Retina Foundation of the Southwest (Dallas), the reading performance of school-age children with amblyopia due to strabismus and/or anisometropia was compared with that of children without amblyopia who had undergone treatment for strabismus and children with normal vision and eye alignment.

All children in the study were fitted with a device called a Readalyzer that recorded their quick eye movements (saccades) while they silently read a grade-level paragraph of text. Reading rate, number of forward and corrective (regressive) saccades per 100 words, and time spent fixating on words were recorded. Then a quiz was administered to evaluate reading comprehension, and only data from children with at least 80 percent correct responses were included in the final analysis.

Results showed that amblyopic children read more slowly and had more corrective saccades than nonamblyopic children with treated strabismus and normal controls. Fixation duration did not differ significantly among the two groups.

The researchers concluded that amblyopia was associated with slower reading in school-age children, and that treatment of amblyopia could improve reading speed and efficiency.

In a review of the study published in Practice Update (an online publication for eye care providers), vision and learning expert Leonard J. Press, OD, said the study authors also “underscore the importance of recognizing amblyopia as a potential reason to request accommodation in school or on standardized testing for a student to receive additional time for completion of assignments.”

The only way to confirm if your child has any underlying problems with their vision is to get them screened before they go to school. The optometrists at Envision Optical will detect the presence of amblyopia and implement an effective treatment program including vision therapy to maximize vision and binocular function. If existing underlying problems are treated and the amblyopia is detected and treated early, most children will gain vision. Amblyopia becomes much more difficult to treat after about 7-9 years of age, so stick to the recommendations about early childhood exams.

The study was published online by the Journal of the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus.

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*National Childrens Sceening Project