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Lazy eye (amblyopia): gathering hard evidence on the best way to restore children’s vision

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Around two per cent of children have a lazy eye – also known as amblyopia.1,2 Eye patches placed over the ‘good’ eye have been used to treat lazy eye for over 250 years.3 Today, children normally wear glasses to improve focussing before using an eye patch, but controversy remains over the relative benefits of these two approaches. Dr Frank Proudlock, of the University of Leicester, is running a clinical trial to gather hard evidence on what sort of treatment is best.

What is the problem and who does it affect?

“Lazy eye is the most common cause of vision problems in children in the UK,” explains Dr Proudlock.3.4 “Around 90 per cent of work by children’s eye services here is related to these problems.”3

Children with a lazy eye have better vision in one eye than the other and rely on their good eye to see. It’s thought the brain chooses to ignore images from the worse eye, the lazy eye. Triggers for this include things that stop children’s eyes from working together properly, such as a squint and focussing problems – such as being far-sighted – that affect one eye more than the other.

“Children with amblyopia often can’t see properly in three dimensions. They can have difficulties judging distance and with hand-eye coordination, which can leave them accident prone and make things like catching a ball difficult,” explains Dr Proudlock. “Reading can be affected too.”

“Children are usually treated first with glasses to correct focussing problems. Next, they also wear a patch over the good eye, which forces the brain to start using the lazy eye again. However, a lack of hard evidence means many questions remain over just how long children need to wear their glasses and their patch for in order to get the best out of treatment.”

What is the project trying to achieve?

“We aim to provide robust evidence on how quickly children with a lazy eye should begin using an eye patch after they start wearing glasses – whether it’s better to wait three or 18 weeks,” says Dr Proudlock. “It might be that wearing glasses for longer means children don’t have to use an eye patch for so long. If so, this could prove very beneficial as children can find wearing patches distressing, and their use can lead to bullying and low self-esteem.”

Around 350 children aged three to eight years are taking part in what’s called a randomised controlled clinical trial.

“Another important consideration is whether children actually wear their glasses as much as they should,” says Dr Proudlock. “We are investigating whether this influences treatment success by using small electronic monitors fixed onto the children’s glasses. We are also assessing whether the underlying cause of the children’s lazy eye – a squint, short-sightedness and so on - affects what sort of treatment is best.”

What are the researchers’ credentials?

Dr Proudlock is a world expert in researching lazy eye and another condition called nystagmus, where the eyes move to and fro uncontrollably. He is working with a multidisciplinary team of doctors, scientists and orthoptists who have an excellent track record after 12 years of collaborative research. (Orthoptists test for lazy eye and other problems that relate to how the eyes move and work together.)



  1. Powell C, Hatt SR. Vision screening for amblyopia in childhood. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2009 Jul 8;(3):CD005020. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005020.pub3
  2. NHS Evidence – eyes and vision. Annual evidence update on amblyopia. 27 September 2010.
  3. Stewart CE et al. Treatment dose–response in amblyopia therapy: the Monitored Occlusion Treatment of Amblyopia Study (MOTAS). Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 2004 45 (9): 3048-54.
  4. Medline Plus. Amblyopia. Website accessed 19 February 2013.


Project Leader Dr Frank A Proudlock PhD, MSc, BSc
Project Team Professor Irene Gottlob MD Univ Doz FRCOphthDr Annegret Dahlmann-Noor Dr med PhD FRCOphth FRCS(Ed) DipMedEd
Project Location Ophthalmology Group, University of Leicester
Project Location Other Paediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, NIHR BRC Moorfields Eye HospitalUniversity College London Institute of Ophthalmology
Project duration 3 years
Date awarded 15 November 2012
Project start date 15 August 2013
Project end date 14 August 2022
Grant amount £199,207
Grant code GN2099


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