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Amblyopia vs. Strabismus: What’s the Difference?

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Whether you’re the parent of a child with symptoms, or an adult with symptoms yourself, vision troubles and blurry vision aren’t a fun experience. Conditions like strabismus and amblyopia are no joke—not only can they be alarming, but they can also have rippling impacts throughout the rest of your life. So what’s the difference between amblyopia and strabismus, and what can you do about them?

Amblyopia is a developmental disorder that occurs when one eye grows stronger than the other, and the brain ignores or restricts the vision of the weaker eye. Meanwhile, strabismus develops when one eye faces a different direction due to a problem with muscle development or neurological impairment.

What Is Amblyopia?

Amblyopia, commonly known as “lazy eye,” is a disorder that develops when there’s a problem with your visual development. One eye fails to achieve the proper level of visual clarity—even with prescription glasses or contact lenses—and the brain is forced to accommodate.

Over time, the brain begins to prioritize the stronger eye over the weaker one by ignoring the weaker eye or suppressing the visual signals it sends. This often starts during childhood and can lead to permanent vision problems if left unaddressed.

The 3 Types of Amblyopia

There are 3 different types of amblyopia:

  • Refractive amblyopia: Caused by a difference in refractive abilities between the eyes—one eye simply provides clearer vision than the other.
  • Strabismic amblyopia: Occurs when one eye is turned (strabismus), resulting in the brain ignoring the input from that eye to avoid double vision.
  • Deprivation amblyopia: Results from an obstruction in the eye, such as cataracts, which prevent light from entering and developing normal vision.

The Signs of Amblyopia

Recognizing the signs of amblyopia allows you to get help sooner rather than later.

If you suspect that you may have amblyopia, look for the following signs:

  • Poor depth perception, resulting in difficulty judging distances
  • Squinting or shutting one eye constantly
  • Head tilting to prioritize the vision from the stronger eye
  • Difficulty reading, constantly skipping lines, or losing one’s place
  • Frequent eye rubbing

Whether you’re an adult experiencing these signs or have noticed them in your child, amblyopia may be the culprit. Your next step should be to visit your optometrist for a comprehensive eye exam and a proper diagnosis; then, they can help you make a treatment plan.

What Is Strabismus?

 Strabismus is a little more complicated than amblyopia. Strabismus develops when the eyes don’t align properly—rather than focusing together at a single point, they aim in slightly different directions.

For example, one eye may turn inward while the other eye remains focused. This alignment can cause double vision, blurriness, and other worsening vision issues such as difficulties with depth perception and/or judging distance.

The Different Types of Strabismus

Strabismus is classified based on several factors:

  • Which eye turns. Only one eye may turn, or else it could alternate eyes.
  • The direction of the turn:
    • Esotropia (inward towards the nose)
    • Exotropia (outward towards the ears)
    • Hypertropia (upward towards the forehead)
    • Hypotropia (downward towards the chin)
  • The degree of the turn. This indicates the severity of misalignment.
  • The consistency of the turn, that is, whether the turn remains the same in all directions of gaze or varies.

Each of these factors can cause your symptoms to manifest differently. Your optometrist will be able to provide you with a proper diagnosis for your condition so that you can begin appropriate treatment.

The Signs of Strabismus

Strabismus symptoms can vary depending on the specific type, but they generally include:

  • Misaligned eyes, where one eye may appear to drift inward, outward, upward, or downward
  • Double vision, where the eyes are unable to focus on the same point
  • Difficulty with depth perception, leading to challenges in spatial awareness
  • Closing or covering one eye to improve vision or reduce double vision
  • Squinting or head tilting, particularly when trying to focus on something
  • Frequent eye strain or headaches, especially after reading or working closely

Early detection is crucial, as it helps prevent worsening vision and other symptoms later on in life. If left untreated, strabismus can often lead to amblyopia, and even blindness in one eye.

How to Treat Amblyopia & Strabismus

If you think you or your child are dealing with a condition like amblyopia, it’s time to see your optometrist. First, they’ll assess your eyes and vision to determine what’s causing your problems, then they’ll design an appropriate treatment approach.

A smiling optometrist and a young boy giving a thumbs-up during vision therapy

With amblyopia and strabismus, treatment usually involves vision therapy. This is a customized program that has you work through a series of different exercises, all designed to:

  • Strengthen eye muscles
  • Improve coordination
  • Enhance visual skills

To accomplish this, vision therapy helps improve the connection between the eyes and your brain. It’s much like physical therapy, but for your eyes instead of your muscles:  it teaches you how to use your vision to reduce the severity of your amblyopia or strabismus.

Get Help for Your Vision Today

Don’t wait to address vision issues; early intervention can make all the difference. If you have any vision irregularities, come see our team at Vivid Eye Care. We can diagnose your condition and help you make a plan going forward. Book an appointment with our team today!

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