New, high-tech glasses may offer kids with "lazy eye" a hipper alternative to the traditional, dreaded eye patch, new research suggests.
Fashioned to look like snazzy ski eyewear, the glasses can function as normal prescription eyeglasses – but with a twist.
'Dullness of vision'
They also can form a temporary LCD digital patch over one eye, mimicking the therapeutic impact of eye patches and eye drops – the standard treatment for lazy eye (amblyopia).
Investigators say the digital specs, called Amblyz, might appeal to children who often resist standard treatment.
"Our study demonstrates that this treatment option is equally effective compared to traditional patching. And we are hoping that it's actually more effective for certain subsets of patients," said study lead author Dr Daniel Neely, a professor of ophthalmology at the Indiana University School of Medicine's Glick Eye Institute.
Neely presented his team's findings Saturday in Las Vegas at a meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The effort was funded by the XMD Corp., maker of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved medical device.
Amblyopia, a term that means "dullness of vision", affects roughly 3 percent of children, Neely said.
It is the most common eye ailment among children, arising when one eye is much weaker than the other, or when one eye "wanders" or shifts inward.
Children hate the treatment
The brain responds by suppressing the optical information coming from the underperforming eye. Corrective treatment must begin as early as possible, before the neurological system matures – blocking all visual signals and causing blindness in the problem eye, Neely said.
Typically, eye patches or drops are used to block vision in the good eye and force the brain to rely on the weak eye. Over time, this can improve eye-brain communication.
The problem is that patch and/or drops therapy can last from two to eight hours a day, limiting the child's ability to see and function normally during that time. Children, said Neely, understandably hate the treatment process, making compliance difficult.
The new study focused on 33 children between 3 and 8 years old. All were diagnosed with moderate amblyopia (meaning 20/40 to 20/100 vision), and all wore standard corrective glasses.
About half were given standard lazy-eye treatment – an adhesive patch worn two hours every day. The remaining kids were given a pair of electronic glasses for four hours a day, during which time the lens covering each child's good eye was programmed to alternate from clear to opaque every 30 seconds.
After three months, investigators found that both groups of children fared equally well in terms of visual improvement, acquiring the ability to decipher two additional lines on a standard reading chart.
But Neely said the electronic glasses have the potential upside of being easier and less distressing for young patients to use.
"Not only does this make it more 'fun' or tolerable, but it may improve outcomes if the compliance is better," he said. Although "they may seem awkward to an adult, to kids they are not, they are cool", he added.
Whether parents judge the coolness to be worth the $450 price is an open question, according to another expert.
"The price is significant and may be a hurdle for some families," said Dr K. David Epley, a paediatric ophthalmologist in Kirkland, Washington, and a spokesman for the ophthalmology academy. "The glasses could be covered by vision insurance, but likely wouldn't be fully covered," said Epley, who was not involved in the study.
Still, he said, the digital glasses could prove to be a "good second-line therapy".
"These are encouraging results that give ophthalmologists treating amblyopia another tool to use in restoring sight for these children," Epley said. "Patching can be difficult, and the more methods of improving the vision, the more likely we are to be able to effectively treat every child."
Research presented at meetings is usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.