Treatments to stimulate eye co-operation versus standard patching or blurring treatment for amblyopia (lazy eye) in children aged three to eight years

Review question
Binocular versus standard occlusion or blurring treatment for unilateral amblyopia in children aged three to eight years.

At present, amblyopia (lazy eye) in children is treated with glasses, followed by either patching or blurring of the better-seeing eye with atropine eyedrops. These treatments are not popular with children, and the amount of patching or eye drops that parents and carers can apply is often less than what was prescribed. Less than two-thirds of children develop normal vision in the lazy eye, and three-dimensional vision may remain limited in some cases. A new type of binocular treatment (with both eyes open) that matches the visual information shown to the better eye to the level of vision in the lazy eye may yield better results. Children may find this approach easier to tolerate, as during treatment they play computer games or watch movies through special lenses or on modified computers.

What did we want to find out?
We wanted to find out if binocular treatments were better than conventional patching or pharmacological blurring treatment in getting better visual outcomes in children, aged three to eight years, with unilateral amblyopia.

What did we do?
We searched for studies that examined this new treatment, compared with standard patching or eye-drop blurring treatment, in children aged three to eight years with lazy eye. We searched all standard sources of information. Two review authors independently reviewed the results of this search. We planned to include only studies reporting results from randomised controlled trials (RCTs) - studies comparing the new treatment with a standard treatment, and where children were assigned treatment groups at random (like flipping a coin). 

What did we find?
We identified one RCT that met these criteria. The study recruited 385 children of which a subset were analysed; 36 were randomised to a binocular iPad game and 32 children were randomised to conventional patching treatment. The study found, on average that vision improves with both patching and the new computer treatment after 16 weeks, with little-to-no difference in the amount of improvement with either approach, though there were some limitations with the study.

We conclude that more research is needed to allow decisions about the new treatment. We recommend that future research be done in the form of RCTs, and that researchers use acknowledged tests of visual acuity (fine detail) and three-dimensional vision to report the results. It will also be important to publish observations reported by children and families, how much the treatment was used, and if and when the vision in the lazy eye got worse after the treatment was stopped.

How up to date is this evidence?
This review updates our previous review. The evidence is up to date to November 2020.

Authors' conclusions: 

Currently, there is only one RCT that offers evidence of the safety and effectiveness of binocular treatment.

The authors are moderately confident that after 16 weeks of treatment, the gain in amblyopic eye acuity with binocular treatment is likely comparable to that of conventional patching treatment. However, due to the limited sample size and lack of long term (52 week) follow-up data, it is not yet possible to draw robust conclusions regarding the overall safety and sustained effectiveness of binocular treatment.

Further research, using acknowledged methods of visual acuity and stereoacuity assessment with known reproducibility, is required to inform decisions about the implementation of binocular treatments for amblyopia in clinical practice, and should incorporate longer term follow-up to establish the effectiveness of binocular treatment. Randomised controlled trials should also include outcomes reported by users, adherence to prescribed treatment, and recurrence of amblyopia after cessation of treatment.

Read the full abstract...

Current treatments for amblyopia, typically patching or pharmacological blurring, have limited success. Less than two-thirds of children achieve good acuity of 0.20 logMAR in the amblyopic eye, with limited improvement of stereopsis, and poor adherence to treatment. A new approach, based on presentation of movies or computer games separately to each eye, may yield better results and improve adherence. These treatments aim to balance the input of visual information from each eye to the brain. 


To determine whether binocular treatments in children, aged three to eight years, with unilateral amblyopia result in better visual outcomes than conventional patching or pharmacological blurring treatment.

Search strategy: 

We searched CENTRAL (which contains the Cochrane Eyes and Vision Trials Register), MEDLINE, Embase, ISRCTN,, and the WHO ICTRP to 19 November 2020, with no language restrictions.

Selection criteria: 

Two review authors independently screened the results of the search for relevant studies. We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that enrolled children between the ages of three and eight years old with unilateral amblyopia. Amblyopia was classed as present when the best-corrected visual acuity (BCVA) was worse than 0.200 logMAR in the amblyopic eye, with BCVA 0.200 logMAR or better in the fellow eye, in the presence of an amblyogenic risk factor, such as anisometropia, strabismus, or both. To be eligible, children needed to have undergone cycloplegic refraction and ophthalmic examination, including fundal examination and optical treatment, if indicated, with stable BCVA in the amblyopic eye despite good adherence with wearing glasses. We included any type of binocular viewing intervention, on any device (e.g. computer monitors viewed with liquid-crystal display shutter glasses; hand-held screens, including mobile phones with lenticular prism overlay; or virtual reality displays). Control groups received standard amblyopia treatment, which could include patching or pharmacological blurring of the better-seeing eye. We included full-time (all waking hours) and part-time (between 1 and 12 hours a day) patching regimens.

We excluded children who had received any treatment other than optical treatment; and studies with less than 8-week follow-up.

Data collection and analysis: 

We used standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane. The primary outcome of the review was the change from baseline of distance BCVA in the amblyopic eye after 16 (± 2) weeks of treatment, measured in logMAR units on an age-appropriate acuity test.

Main results: 

We identified one eligible RCT of conventional patching treatment versus novel binocular treatment, and analysed a subset of 68 children who fulfilled the age criterion of this review. We obtained data for the mean change in amblyopic eye visual acuity, adverse events (diplopia), and adherence to prescribed treatment at 8- and 16-week follow-up intervals, though no data were available for change in BCVA after 52 weeks. Risk of bias for the included study was considered to be low.

The certainty of evidence for the visual acuity outcomes at 8 and 16 weeks of treatment and adherence to the study intervention was rated moderate using the GRADE criteria, downgrading by one level due to imprecision. The certainty of evidence was downgraded by two levels and rated low for the proportion of participants reporting adverse events due to the sample size. 

Acuity improved in the amblyopic eye in both the binocular and patching groups following 16 weeks of treatment (improvement of -0.21 logMAR in the binocular group and -0.24 logMAR in the patching group), mean difference (MD) 0.03 logMAR (95% confidence interval (CI) -0.10 to 0.04; 63 children). This difference was non-significant and the improvements in both the binocular and patching groups are also considered clinically similar.

Following 8 weeks of treatment, acuity improved in both the binocular and patching groups (improvement of -0.18 logMAR in the patching group compared to -0.16 logMAR improvement in the binocular-treatment group) (MD 0.02, 95% CI -0.04 to 0.08). Again this difference was statistically non-significant, and the differences observed between the patching and binocular groups are also clinically non-significant. No adverse event of permanent diplopia was reported.

Adherence was higher in the patching group (47% of participants in the iPad group achieved over 75% compliance compared with 90% of the patching group). 

Data were not available for changes in stereopsis nor for contrast sensitivity following treatment.