When you have lazy eye, or weaker vision in one eye than the other, doctors often recommend patching — or covering up the stronger eye to strengthen the weaker one. But researchers recently found an interesting alternative to patching: a specially designed video game.
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In a recent study comparing the two, the video game was found to be a more effective treatment for lazy eye (or amblyopia) than patching.
Twenty-eight children between ages 4 to 10 participated. Half used patching while the other half played the video game. After two weeks, the children in the game group showed more improvement than the children in the patching group.
What may surprise some people about amblyopia is that there’s nothing actually wrong with the lazy eye itself, only in the ability for the brain to send and receive messages from it, says ophthalmologist Fatema Ghasia, MD.
“Amblyopia can cause a wandering eye, eyes that may not appear to work together, or poor depth perception,” she says.
If not treated, the brain may favor the eye with a stronger connection — and eventually it may stop trying to communicate with the weaker one.
The connection to the brain is one critical part of this condition, while the other involves making sure that the eyes also are coordinated with one another.
“Research from our lab, as well as others, shows that it is not just a problem of one eye. It affects both eyes and ability to use both eyes together,” Dr. Ghasia says. Patching helps the brain and weaker eye to communicate, but does so independently of the stronger eye.
How a video game could treat lazy eye
Using a video game is a creative development in the treatment of lazy eye. It’s designed to be fun for kids, involving miners brandishing pickaxes, fireballs moving across the screen, and rocky terrain.
During play, children wear specially designed goggles that can isolate the work of each eye. “These goggles allow presentation of different stimulus to each eye,” Dr. Ghasia says.
With the use of the goggles, the game presents high- and low-contrast images (with red and brightly colored images to engage the weaker eye and more subdued blue images to engage the stronger eye). Images in the background (browns and grays) are processed by both eyes.
In this way, the game not only strengthens the connections from the weak eye to the brain, but it also simultaneously allows the eyes to work together.
Some caveats about study results
Dr. Ghasia says that every study has limitations, and this study was very short term. “It’s difficult to know how the video game treatment would hold up to the standard eye-patching treatment in the long run.”
She adds that in order for the binocular video game treatment to work, the child has to play the game consistently, which can be difficult to do.
Hope for adults with lazy eye, too
While most people with lazy eye are diagnosed as children, Dr. Ghasia says there are many adults who have the condition. Newer treatments are making it possible for people to have improved vision, even if they didn’t receive treatment as a child.
“Recovery of vision is possible in older children and adults,” she says. “Advances in technology are making it possible to try exciting new treatments for common eye disorders.”