“Lazy eye” is a term that some strabismus sufferers find offensive. It is often used as a synonym for amblyopia, yet technically these terms are not the same. According to the National Eye Institute, “Amblyopia is the medical term used when the vision in one of the eyes is reduced because the eye and the brain are not working together properly.”
Not everyone with what is termed a lazy eye will get amblyopia. I didn’t. Both of my eyes tend to drift at times, and they each have their turn carrying the load as well. So vision is fairly equal in each eye.
I always use the term “lazy eye” with caution at Eyes Apart. One person put it this way: “‘Lazy eye’ is my all time least favorite term. I HATE the term ‘lazy eye’ because I don’t like being called lazy in any way shape or form.”
There is nothing lazy about a turned eye. For those like myself who are able to focus their eyes together at least part of the time, it is hard work to keep them together, and impossible to maintain the focus constantly. There have been times when I have been exhausted just trying to see. For many it takes constant mental effort just to keep things focused well enough to function.
When the eye drifts permanently so that the eyes do not work together at all, it is not due to laziness. These people have put out an enormous effort trying to see. They have learned subconscious coping mechanisms of suppressing one eye to avoid double vision when they could not get the eyes to work together. As they suppressed the eye, it began to drift. Vision therapy and/or surgery can sometimes prevent the suppression, but without professional help it is almost impossible to avoid it.
Occasionally someone would mention my “lazy eye” when I was growing up, but since the “lazy eye” alternated from one eye to the other and was only there when I was very tired, it wasn’t that noticeable. Even so, I prefer the term “drifting eyes” above “lazy eyes” to describe my condition.
I can only imagine how I would feel if I had been the brunt of jokes and teasing constantly about having lazy eyes. So please consider the language you use when you refer to someone with strabismus. “Turned eye” is more gentle than “lazy eye.” Be kind!
Photo credit: Anita Patterson