Close up of woman's eye

App encourages children to stick with ‘lazy eye’ treatment

Image credit: Pixabay

A mobile phone app has been created by eye specialists to encourage children with 'lazy eye' to wear a patch that helps correct the condition and ensure it is being used properly.

Around one in 50 children are affected by the visual impairment amblyopia, which can usually be treated through patching therapy.

This involves the child wearing a patch over the unaffected eye – normally for three hours a day for six months – to force the 'lazy' eye to work.

However, the success rate is only 50 per cent, as children often struggle to wear the patch properly and with many busy households eventually giving up on the treatment.

Medics at the University of Southampton have joined up with mathematicians and game designers to create an app to encourage children to build a positive association with their eye patch and wear it more often.

The phone app consists of several different computer games designed by graduates of the University of Southampton’s Winchester School of Art working at Nucleolus Software, a company formed for the project.

Through complex programming, the app also uses the smart phone’s camera to check if the person playing is wearing their patch correctly and encourages them to do so within the game.

A prototype of the app, called 'The Amblios Club', is available now for Android devices on the Google Play Store. The company hopes the app will also be available for iPhone devices in the coming months.

In the games, children play with Bambu the panda and his robot friend Bob, who both live in a nature reserve. They encounter other animals out in the wild and help Bob in the upkeep of the reserve and in recycling waste.

Dr Jay Self, associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of Southampton, and consultant at University Hospital Southampton (UHS), said: “Consistency in wearing an eye patch is essential for treating amblyopia. The technique works, but there’s a short window of time for treatment, as it has very limited success after the age of eight.

“It requires a huge time investment and perseverance and is not much fun at all. Sadly, it’s easy to give up. Preliminary evidence suggests that the development of immersive smartphone, tablet and computer games could offer an effective solution by making the child want to wear the patch for the first time.

“This can increase the effectiveness of occlusion therapy and, importantly, help relieve some of the pressure on parents to implement the treatment.”

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