Amblyopia: prevalence, natural history, functional effects and treatment

Clin Exp Optom. 2005 Nov;88(6):365-75. doi: 10.1111/j.1444-0938.2005.tb05102.x.


Amblyopia, defined as poor vision due to abnormal visual experience early in life, affects approximately three per cent of the population and carries a projected lifetime risk of visual loss of at least 1.2 per cent. The presence of amblyopia or its risk factors, mainly strabismus or refractive error, have been primary conditions targeted in childhood vision screenings. Continued support for such screenings requires evidence-based understanding of the prevalence and natural history of amblyopia and its predisposing conditions, and proof that treatment is effective in the long term with minimal negative impact on the patient and family. This review summarises recent research relevant to the clinical understanding of amblyopia, including prevalence data, risk factors, the functional impact of amblyopia and optimum treatment regimes and their justification from a vision and life skills perspective. Collectively, these studies indicate that treatment for amblyopia is effective in reducing the overall prevalence and severity of visual loss from amblyopia. Correction of refractive error alone has been shown to significantly reduce amblyopia and less frequent occlusion can be just as effective as more extensive occlusion. Occlusion or penalisation in amblyopia treatment can create negative changes in behaviour in children and impact on family life, and these factors should be considered in prescribing treatment, particularly because of their influence on compliance. Ongoing treatment trials are being undertaken to determine both the maximum age at which treatment of amblyopia can still be effective and the importance of near activities during occlusion. This review highlights the expansion of current knowledge regarding amblyopia and its treatment to help clinicians provide the best level of care for their amblyopic patients that current knowledge allows.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Amblyopia / epidemiology
  • Amblyopia / physiopathology*
  • Amblyopia / psychology
  • Amblyopia / therapy*
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Disabled Persons
  • Humans
  • Prevalence
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Change