New machine could help detect lazy eye earlier

It could be blinding your child years before you realize it.

Amblyopia, or lazy eye, happens when the brain ignores one eye, causing its vision to fade away.

It is the most common cause of vision problems in children, and only about one in three kids show physical symptoms.

Now, a doctor's invention is helping catch it in just seconds and well before the norm.

Ashton Slowe swims competitively and likes baseball. While he sees himself becoming a professional athlete some day, he cannot see much out of one eye.

Ashton says, "The right eye is much weaker than the left eye."

Ashton’s dad says the eight-year-old was diagnosed with amblyopia, or lazy eye, when he was five.

Joseph Slowe says, "I would have loved to have had it at a much earlier age."

Dr. David Hunter is working on that.

The ophthalmologist demonstrates the pediatric vision scanner on Ashton. In just two and a half seconds, the device he co-invented can catch vision loss or misaligned eyes in kids as young as two.

Dr. Hunter says, "Catching it early is essential in order to treat it fully and easily."

However, it is hard to diagnose lazy eye before a child can read an eye chart.

"And it's so frustrating because we know that if just gotten to them three or four years earlier, then we would have been able to fully treat it."

That is what the scanner's blinking smiley face helps do. Two green lights mean both eyes are fine. One or two red lights mean there is a problem. The prototype was tested on more than 200 kids. It worked better than 96 percent of the time. Dr. Hunter would like to see it become a part of every child's annual check-up.

"Look at their height, their weight, their temperature, their blood pressure and their eye scan."

Meanwhile, treatment is helping restore a young, multi-sports star's sight.

Dr. Hunter has been working on the pediatric vision scanner for 20 years.

It is still in trials now, and work is being done to make it lighter and wireless, but Hunter believes it could be in your pediatrician's office sometime in 2012.

If caught in time, lazy eye can usually be corrected with an eye patch or eye drops.


BACKGROUND: Amblyopia, also known as "lazy eye," is the most common cause of vision problems in children. The condition leads to losing the ability to see details because the nerve pathway from one eye that connects to the brain does not develop. This loss of ability to see details results in future vision problems. The vision problems occur because, during childhood, the abnormal eye sends a blurred image or the wrong image to the brain, and it confuses the brain. Eventually, the brain adjusts to ignoring the image from the weaker eye. (SOURCE: National Center for Biotechnology Information)

CAUSES: Amblyopia is most commonly caused by strabismus, also known as "cross eyes." However, amblyopia can occur without the influence of strabismus. A family history of the condition also plays a role as one of the causes of amblyopia. Other causes include childhood cataracts, farsightedness, nearsightedness or astigmatism. (SOURCE: National Center for Biotechnology Information)

SYMPTOMS: Amblyopia is diagnosed with an examination of the eyes. One of the signs to look for is eyes that turn in or out and do not appear to work together. Also, depth perception is hindered. However, it is also possible that one eye could be weaker than the other without any obvious signs. (SOURCE: National Center for Biotechnology Information)

PEDIATRIC VISION SCANNER: It is suggested to treat amblyopia early in children, before age 5, in order to recover normal vision and prevent future vision problems. Children who are treated after age 10 should only expect a partial recovery. The Pediatric Vision Scanner, which has been developed over the past 20 years by Dr. David Hunter and colleagues, has been tested on 154 patients at the Children's Ophthalmology Clinic and 48 children, ages 2 to 18 years old, with normal vision. The device scans the eyes using a low-power laser to measure the alignment, also known as binocularity. It detects the focus and alignment pathways that are separated by wavelengths and data gathered by timing. The scanner is able to detect amblyopia even with the absence of strabismus.
(SOURCE: National Center for Biotechnology and Children's Hospital Boston)

Colleen Connolly
Media Specialist
Children's Hospital Boston
(617) 919-3112

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