Amblyopia, commonly known as “lazy eye,” refers to the inability of one or both eyes to work correctly with the brain. In typical cases, the brain — for whatever reason — favors the other eye. The most common childhood visual impairment, amblyopia affects 2 to 3% of children. Adults though middle age with impairment in one eye most commonly suffer from the same condition, according to the National Institutes of Health. Amblyopia can be caused or worsened by strabismus when a person’s two eyes are misaligned, At other times amblyopia can result from cataracts.
Doctors at the Eye clinic of the Jessenius Faculty of Medicine in Martin, Slovakia report progress in treating patients for amblyopia with virtual reality goggles and a computer game. Using a modified version of the Oculus Rift headset, the clinic’s doctors use software developed by Vivid Vision. The software is a game that requires players to use both eyes. Traditional amblyopia treatments penalized a patient’s good eye with a patch or an atropine shot to blur vision, forcing the patient the use the weaker eye. Playing the VR game trains both eyes to work together. As reported in BMC Ophthalmology, a clinic-run study using the VR headset and Vivid Vision software showed significant improvement in the amblyopic eye after eight 40-minutes sessions.
The Slovakian study indicates potential success for a new treatment for amblyopia. Additional studies are needed with more stringent controls. The reported study had 17 subjects aged 17 to 69 years old, which is fine, and measured visual acuity and stereoacuity improvement of the individuals and the group before and after the game regimen. Equal-sized control groups (one with no game training and another trained with a game that does not require both eyes to work together), double-blind assigned and evaluated would help isolate the specific training effect to identify any potential causal relationship. The thought that virtual reality, still in its nascent years, can help people with visual impairment is heartening.