Background: Although amblyopia can be successfully treated with patching or atropine, there have been few prospective studies of amblyopia recurrence once treatment is discontinued.
Methods: We enrolled 156 children with successfully treated anisometropic or strabismic amblyopia (145 completed follow-up), who were younger than 8 years of age and who received continuous amblyopia treatment for the previous 3 months (prescribed at least 2 hours of daily patching or prescribed at least one drop of atropine per week) and who had improved at least 3 logMAR levels during the period of continuous treatment. Patients were followed off treatment for 52 weeks to assess recurrence of amblyopia, defined as a 2 or more logMAR level reduction of visual acuity from enrollment, confirmed by a second examination. Recurrence was also considered to have occurred if treatment was restarted because of a nonreplicated 2 or more logMAR level reduction of visual acuity.
Results: Recurrence occurred in 35 (24%) of 145 cases (95% confidence interval 17% to 32%) and was similar in patients who stopped patching (25%) and in patients who stopped atropine (21%). In patients treated with moderately intense patching (6 to 8 hours per day), recurrence was more common (11 of 26; 42%) when treatment was not reduced prior to cessation than when treatment was reduced to 2 hours per day prior to cessation (3 of 22; 14%, odds ratio 4.4, 95% confidence interval 1.0 to 18.7).
Conclusions: Approximately one fourth of successfully treated amblyopic children experience a recurrence within the first year off treatment. For patients treated with 6 or more hours of daily patching, our data suggest that the risk of recurrence is greater when patching is stopped abruptly rather than when it is reduced to 2 hours per day prior to cessation. A randomized clinical trial of no weaning versus weaning in successfully-treated amblyopia is warranted to confirm these observational findings.