Watch four-year old Sam Lollar play basketball or baseball in his backyard, and you’d think he was a pretty normal kid. He can nail a free throw or hit a pitched ball. You’d not guess he had vision problems. His parents never guessed it either… until he went to a vision, hearing and speech screening at his pre-school.
“My husband and my brother both had speech problems and needed speech therapy, so I was more concerned about issues that might come up with his speech than his vision,” said mother Jennifer Lollar. “Hearing? Well, like any kid he has selective hearing when it comes to his parents. It never crossed my mind that he could have a vision problem.”
But the tests showed that Sam had less than 20-40 vision in his right eye. University of Alabama at Birmingham pediatric ophthalmologist Martin Cogen, M.D., diagnosed Sam with amblyopia, or lazy eye.
“The important thing for parents, teachers and professionals to understand is that the child might look and act perfectly normal, there may be no visible sign that anything is wrong,” said Cogen. “As long as a child can see out of one eye they have no idea that they are missing anything. In other words, if you’ve never had it, you don’t miss it.”
Cogen says there are nearly 60,000 children diagnosed with lazy eye each year in the United States. It’s basically a focusing issue between the two eyes. At birth, one eye might be in good focus and the other blurry. Over time, the brain learns to ignore the blurry image. After months or years, the problem becomes permanently wired into the brain, leading to eventual irreversible loss of vision.
The good news is that if caught in time, lazy eye is correctable.
“If found at pre-school age, four years old or younger, and treated promptly, the child will regain normal eyesight virtually 100 percent of the time. If not found until later, say eight or nine years old, the odds of success go down as much as 70 or 80 percent.
Sam is making good progress in strengthening his lazy eye. Cogen and Jennifer Lollar agree, have your children screened when young – whether at school or at an eye care professional. A simple screening can make all the difference.
"Had we not participated in the screening at Sam’s school, we would have not known he had a problem until much later as his vision got worse,” said Jennifer. “And by then it probably would have been too late to do anything about it.”