Patch Might Not Be Best Treatment for Lazy Eye

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Big Kids, Research Reveals: Tweens, Health

The patch may be a thing of the past when it comes to treating lazy eyes. Credit: Corbis

The pirate look may be cute on Johnny Depp or kids in day care, but going to school with a patch over one eye can be humiliating for primary and middle school children suffering from a lazy eye.

But there may be help: A new study shows acupuncture may be more effective than the patch.

Lazy eye afflicts up to five percent of people, and as many of 50 percent of those cases are caused by a difference in the nearsightedness or farsightedness between the two eyes, according to a report in the Archives of Ophthalmology.

Younger kids can be treated with the right glasses or contact lenses, but for kids between ages of 7 and 12, that only works in about 30 percent of cases. The rest need to wear a patch, which brings the improvement rate up to about 66 percent, the report says.

The trouble with that is, by the time they're in elementary school, kids may not want to turn up to class looking as though their first words might be "Ahoy, matey!" Many kids end up taking the patch off, and those who don't "may experience emotional problems," the report says.

Researchers in China set out to find an alternative. They ran a trial with 88 children and gave 43 of them five acupuncture treatments a week. The remaining 45 children wore an eye patch for two hours a day. All the children wore corrective lenses and were told to do a minimum of one hour a day of near-vision activities for their lazy eye, things such as reading or typing, the report says.

After 15 weeks of treatment, the kids whose eyes were patched had visual acuity improvements of 1.8 lines on an eye chart, and those who had acupuncture could see 2.3 lines better, according to the report. Of those who were patched, 66.7 had improvements of two lines or more, compared with 75.6 percent of the kids who had acupuncture, the report continues.

Perhaps the biggest contrast came in the percentage of children for whom the problem was considered resolved: 16.7 percent of the kids who were patched, as opposed to 41.5 percent of those who had acupuncture, the report shows.

The study doesn't mean, though, that kids can abandon their patches in favor of tiny needles. While the treatment looks "promising," the authors note that their follow-up period was relatively short and that there are different styles of acupuncture.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.