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Wednesday 12 June 2024

Earlier eye patching could help children avoid lifelong sight problems

New results from an international trial could change how children with a common eye condition are treated.

University Hospital Southampton (UHS) was one of the leading sites in the eye patching study.

Amblyopia, sometimes called a ‘lazy eye’, is the most common visual impairment of childhood.

Many countries, including the UK, currently recommend that children with amblyopia wear glasses for months before they have an eye patch. However, there is limited evidence to support this.

New research shows most children with the condition would benefit from starting to wear an eye patch sooner. Results have been published in the Lancet.

Top recruiter

UHS was one of 30 hospitals in the UK, Greece, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland that were part of the EuPatch trial. More than 300 children took part overall.

Southampton researchers Dr Jay Self, Dan Osborne and Megan Evans recruited 28 children, greatly surpassing their target.

They received an award for being the highest recruiter in 2017, and were one of the top three recruiters at the end of the trial.

Catching it early

Amblyopia affects between one and five percent of children worldwide. It accounts for over three-quarters of attendance in children’s eye clinics.

Children with amblyopia have one ‘weaker’ eye, where their vision does not develop properly.

Wearing an eye patch can strengthen vision in this eye and prevent lifelong sight problems, but only if this is done before the age of seven or eight.

When to patch?

Children between three and eight years of age took part. They all had recently diagnosed amblyopia.

One group wore glasses for 18 weeks before starting to wear an eye patch. The other group only wore glasses for three weeks before starting to wear the patch.

Both groups were asked to wear the patch the same amount - 10 hours a day for six days each week. After 12 weeks, the researchers checked their eyesight to see if the treatment had been successful.

More children in the early patching group (67 percent) had successful treatment compared to the group that started patching later (54 percent).

Dr Jay Self, who led the trial in Southampton, said: “Amblyopia is a race against the clock, because we only have a short amount of time to treat these children before it’s irreversible.

“This trial shows, for the first time, that earlier patching gives better results. This was particularly true for older children with more severe amblyopia.

“We hope these results will inform new guidelines, meaning fewer children with this common condition are left with lifelong sight problems.”