What is the Difference Between Amblyopia, Lazy Eye, and Strabismus?

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We get regular questions about these terms at Utah Valley Eye. While we’re best known as a Utah County – Provo eyelid surgery and Orem LASIK center, we treat all eye conditions as well as prescribe contact lenses and eyeglasses. Amblyopia, Lazy Eye, Strabismus are frequently used interchangeably, but incorrectly.

Amblyopia or Lazy Eye

These both describe the same condition. Amblyopia is a condition between the brain and eye(s) and their interaction with each other. This condition results in decreased vision and cannot be corrected by eyeglasses. Perhaps the best way to describe Amblyopia is that the brain receives bad information from the eye(s) and rather than using resources to decode the confusing information, the brain takes the easiest path and shuts input down. This results in the visual center(s) in the brain being underdeveloped and decreased vision.

While rare, both eyes can be affected by Amblyopia, resulting in more significant vision loss. As this condition affects between 3 and 5 percent of children at preschool age, parental observations and an early screening with a program such as InfantSEE. Some indicators include having an eye that drifts, squinting, double vision, covering one eye when looking at something, and poor depth perception.

One of our recently diagnosed young patients described seeing, “Two Mommies,” so her mother called us for a consultation. We recommend that all children are screened for vision problems before their 2nd or 3rd birthday, earlier if your child was born prematurely or a history of early childhood vision problems is present in your family.

The most common treatment for Amblyopia involves patching the “good” eye, forcing the affected eye to be the sole source of visual information and “strengthen” it. Surgeries to correct a turned eye may also be part of the treatment plan followed by patching.


Most people automatically use the term Lazy Eye when an eye crosses or turns outward. As stated above, an eye that moves on its own is a sign of Amblyopia or Lazy Eye, but Strabismus is the condition that one or both eyes turns inwards (esotropia) or out (exotropia). The affected eyes can stray and move on their own or remain in their position.

Strabismus can be caused by muscle weakness or poor vision. About 5 percent of all preschoolers have some type of Strabismus.

Common treatments for Strabismus include glasses, patching, surgery, or a combination of all of them. Strabismus treatment is generally very successful if begun early. However, undetected and untreated strabismus can result in Amblyopia, which greatly complicates treatment.

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