One in 50 children are born with a condition called amblyopia, in which the vision in one eye fails to develop properly, resulting in what's commonly called a lazy eye. If left untreated, amblyopia can result in a loss of eyesight, which is why doctors try to catch it early.
The downside to an early amblyopia diagnosis is that you have to wear an eyepatch, which, as anyone who's ever been an 8-year-old will tell you, is the kind of thing that tends to attract the wrong kind of attention on the playground. (By covering up the healthy eye with an eyepatch, the thinking goes, the weaker of the two will be forced to pull its own weight.)
But now, doctors from the University of McGill have developed a new treatment that, at least in a preliminary study, sounds slightly less embarrassing than an eyepatch, and 10 times more fun. In research published in Current Biology, doctors split 18 adult participants with lazy eyes into two groups and asked them to do some homework: Play a few games of Tetris, one hour a day, for two weeks.
The catch was that some participants were asked to wear the traditional eyepatch over their healthy eye, while otheres were asked to play while wearing a special pair of goggles. According to BBC News, "the goggles allowed one eye to see only the falling objects, while the other eye could see only the blocks that accumulate on the ground in the game."
The Tetris players asked to wear the special goggles showed more improved vision than their cyclopean friends. Not to be left out, though, doctors let the folks asked to wear eyepatches don the special goggles for a few weeks, and their vision also improved considerably.
Researchers now think that training the eyes to work in unison — as opposed to one at a time — is probably the preferred approach. "It's much better than patching, much more enjoyable, it's faster, and it seems to work better," Dr. Robert Hess, who led the study, tells BBC News. The next step for researchers is to apply the vision technology to amblyopic children, who probably won't mind the extra hour of video game homework every day.