What is Refractive Error?

Refractive error is a type of vision problem that makes it hard to see clearly because of the shape of your eye/s keeps light from focusing correctly on your retina (a light-sensitive layer of tissue in the back of your eye).

There are 4 common types of refractive errors:

  • Near-sightedness (myopia) is where your distance vision is blurry with correction
  • Farsightedness (hypermetropia) is where your near vision is blurry with correction
  • Astigmatism- can make far-away and nearby objects look blurry or distorted
  • Presbyopia is an age-related refractive error whereby objects at near start to look blurry

Signs of Refractive Error

  • “Ghosting” vision at near or in the distance
  • Hazy vision at near or in the distance
  • Seeing a glare or halo around bright lights
  • Squinting in order to clear images straight ahead of you
  • Eye strain (when your eyes feel tired or sore)
  • Trouble focusing when reading or looking at a computer

Treatment options for Refractive Error

While there is no cure for refractive errors, there are ways to improve your vision if you have any of these. Ways to correct your vision if you have refractive errors include:

  • Prescription glasses – a simple and safe way to correct your vision
  • Prescription contact lenses (after discussion with your ophthalmologist) – these are worn directly on the eye
  • Intraocular lens surgery – your lens is replaced with a small plastic lens (intraocular lens). This would be an option for high refractive errors.

What is amblyopia?

Amblyopia (also called lazy eye) is a type of poor vision that usually just happens in one eye. It develops when there’s a breakdown in how the brain and the eye work together, and the brain cannot recognize the sight from one eye. Over time, the brain relies more and more on the other, stronger eye- while vision in the weaker eye gets worse.

It’s called “lazy eye” because the stronger eye works better. But people with amblyopia are not lazy, and they can’t control the way their eyes work.

Signs of Amblyopia

Symptoms of amblyopia can be hard to notice with kids. Parents may also notice signs that their child is struggling to see clearly like:

  • Squinting and straining to focus on objects in the distance or up close
  • Poor depth perception- they have trouble telling how near or far something is
  • Shutting 1 eye
  • Tilting their head

In many cases, parents don’t know their child has amblyopia until a doctor diagnoses it during an eye exam. That’s why it’s important for all kids to get a vision screening at least once between ages 3 and 5.

Treatment options for Amblyopia

Your ophthalmologist will first prescribe your child with glasses if they are near or far sighted.

The next step is to re-train the brain and force it to use the weaker eye. The more the brain uses it, the stronger it gets. Treatment for this include:

  • Patching treatment- wearing an eye patch on the stronger eye. By covering up this eye with a stick-on eye patch, the brain must use the weaker eye to see.
  • Atropine eyedrop treatment- putting these eye drops in the stronger eye once daily to temporarily blur vision, which forces the brain to use the weaker eye.

It’s important to start treating children with amblyopia early, the sooner the better. Kids who grow up without treatment may have lifelong vision problems. Amblyopia treatment is usually less effective in adults than in children.

What is Strabismus?

Strabismus is when both eyes are not aligned when looking straight ahead. It is vital your child sees an ophthalmologist if this is ever noted as down the track this could lead to the “squinting” eye becoming “lazy” (amblyopic).

Signs of Strabismus

  • One eye looking straight and the other eye either looking inward and/or outward and/or upwards and/or downwards

Treatment options for Strabismus

Treatment depends on what is causing the squint and includes:

  • Wearing glasses – if a child is long sighted, correcting their long sight may also straighten their strabismus
  • Patching – despite wearing glasses or near or long sightedness, if the vision is worse in one eye, then patching the good eye to encourage the weaker, or “squinting” eye to be used, thereby stimulating it to stay straight
  • Atropine eyedrops – if the vision is worse in one eye than the other, eye drops may be used to blur the vision in the good eye to encourage the child to use their worse eye, in a similar way to patching
  • Surgery – the above conservative methods do not fully correct the squint; surgery can be performed as early as a few months of age to align the eyes.

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