Prescribed computer games may help children with common eye condition

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

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Researchers looking at new treatments for lazy eye

In the future a pediatric ophthalmologist may prescribe a computer game to treat a young patient’s lazy eye instead of the traditional eye patch or drops. Researchers recently posted results of their study on the JAMA Ophthalmology website. They concluded that a special type of iPad game was effective in treating children with amblyopia, commonly referred to as lazy eye. Furthermore, they reported it more effective than the standard treatment of patching.

While the results are very promising, Rajesh Rao, M.D., chief, Pediatric Ophthalmology, Beaumont Children’s, says more studies need to be conducted with a larger sample of patients.

Amblyopia is the most common cause of vision impairment in children. According to the National Eye Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, lazy eye occurs when one eye fails to work properly with the brain. This results in reduced vision.

Dr. Rao explained that 3 to 4 percent of children develop lazy eye. He said, “It must be treated at an early age, before 7 or 8. The younger it is detected and treated, the better the outcome. If it is not treated, the condition will become irreversible. The child’s visual disability will become permanent.”

The gold standard to treat lazy eye is to patch the stronger eye said Dr. Rao. Eye drops are also used. The drops produce blurry vision in the stronger eye, forcing the child to use the weaker eye. Some children also need glasses to correct the vision in their weak eye. These treatments are not effective in all children.

“Compliance can be an issue,” said Dr. Rao. “Some patients don’t tolerate the patch and eye drops can be challenging for parents. Sometimes a patch has to be worn up to six or eight hours per day.”

Some of the new treatments, like computer games and movies are binocular, which means the child has to see with both eyes to benefit. The patients usually wear special glasses using similar technology as virtual-reality goggles.

“These new experimental treatments are novel and convenient. I can see their advantages, especially with reduced treatment times: one hour playing computer games versus several hours wearing a patch,” said Dr. Rao. “There are questions about computer games and their long-term effectiveness. Right now, they are not widely available and some of the results with these new high-tech treatments have been mixed.”

These new experimental treatments are novel and convenient. I can see their advantages, especially with reduced treatment times.

Dr. Rao

A national, multicenter research trial conducted by the Pediatric Eye Disease Investigator Group is scheduled to begin next year and should provide some answers. Dr. Rao and his team at Beaumont will be participating in the study and enrolling eligible patients.

Overall, Dr. Rao said there is definitely a need for new treatment options, “The research is very promising. We haven’t had a new treatment for lazy eye in decades.”