—Amanda Zeller Manley, OD, FCOVD
R.M., a 28-year-old man, was getting headaches more and more frequently when using a screen. As someone who spent most of his workday on the computer, this was a problem. A previous eye doctor told him he was out of luck, too old to fix his problem. R.M. had amblyopia, and his new eye doctor had referred him to me.
Last weekend was the 61st Annual Kraskin Invitational Skeffington Symposium (KISS), held in Bethesda, MD. One of the most exciting presentations was given by Dr. Paul Harris, a prolific author, developmental optometrist and professor at Southern College of Optometry. He reported that a group of scientists and clinicians are preparing a publication with new clinical guidelines on the treatment of amblyopia.
The old paradigm for amblyopia treatment is something most people are familiar with to some degree– patching. I think most adults can think back and remember a child at school wearing a stick-on eye patch, and probably getting teased about it. While patching can temporarily improve visual acuity (how many letters you can read off the eye chart), it does nothing to improve the other visual problems present in amblyopia, such as difficulties with eye strain, visual crowding, contrast sensitivity, and using the eyes as a team (among others).
Newer research has shown that not only is patching not the best method of treating amblyopia, it’s not even necessary except during active therapeutic activities. Instead, treating the entire visual system –as a system— produces superior results that last. The key is that amblyopia is not a “lazy eye”, but rather a problem in how the brain uses the two eyes.
It’s interesting that using whole system, or binocular vision, techniques is described as “NEW“, when Developmental Optometry has been doing this clinically for a hundred years.
Developmental optometrists had been using binocular vision perceptual learning techniques for decades before the concept hit the mainstream in research. In the last 25 years, perceptual learning as it relates to vision therapy has been discussed more and more in the fields of psychology and vision science. Many computer games have been developed that capitalize on perceptual learning to develop true and lasting visual skills. However, I and my developmental optometry colleagues have found that working in 3D space (rather than a flat 2D screen) generates a knowledge of “Where am I?” and “Where is it?” that more easily translates into real-world visual scenarios.
Another important acknowledgement in the current scientific literature is that there is no cutoff age for improvement of visual skills and development of binocular 3D vision. Instead, using a binocular vision approach to therapy in conjunction with appropriate compensation of refractive error (glasses or contact lenses), yields excellent results. This mirrors what we have seen clinically. Adult patients frequently reach normal or near-normal levels of visual performance, and in nearly all cases see significant improvements in quality of life.
Publishing new treatment guidelines, taking into account all of the data supporting established developmental optometry clinical therapies, will bring amblyopia remediation out of the dark ages and provide hope to so many patients who have been told, “It’s too late for you.”
As for R.M., as he completed vision therapy, he no longer experienced headaches and eye strain. He was more productive at work, and very happy that his efforts had paid off. He wasn’t too old, after all!
For the nerds, some additional papers on perceptual learning, adult amblyopia, and vision: