Why don't my glasses help?

Last week, I had a patient (let's call her Mary) come to see me because she noticed that she was having difficulty seeing the board at the front of the class clearly. Mary was in her early 30s and mentioned she had worn glasses for a little while as a teen but never thought they helped very much.

Turns out that our friend Mary has a prescription with high astigmatism in both eyes. While many of my near-sighted friends and patients can attest that their vision progressively gets worse throughout their teenage years and into their twenties, astigmatism is generally present from childhood and remains relatively constant throughout our lives. (Learn more about astigmatism in the "All Kinds of Blurry" post)

Why is this important? This means that since Mary was a child, her brain has been receiving blurry images. And our mushy, emotion-filled noodle is a very picky person. If it sees blurry images (or double images, for that matter), it will stop forming connections with the eye that it dislikes (in Mary's case, that was both of her eyes!).

This process is called Amblyopia. If we catch these types of high prescriptions before the age of 7, its usually simple enough to reverse the process and convince our gray and white-mattered friend to start liking the patient's eyes again. Unfortunately, in a case like Mary's there is not too much to be done. At this point, not glasses or contacts, not even lasers will be able to significantly improve her vision.

But this doesn't mean we don't try! A lower prescription was given that did mildly improve vision and we hope that Mary's eyes (and brain) will adapt with time.

What is the moral of the story? Kids should get their eyes examined early and often to catch high prescriptions or changes in prescriptions and to avoid amblyopia!