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Eye Patches for Eye Health – Uses, Types, and How They Work

Eye patches are one tool that eye doctors have to treat patients who have one of a small number of conditions. They are mostly used to treat a lazy eye or crossed eyes in children and double vision.

child with eye patch

It’s rare that someone has a wear a patch long-term, and most treatments that involve its use are temporary. How long someone has to wear a patch varies by condition and severity/

Patching can strengthen the weaker of two eyes.

Conditions Treated with an Eye Patch

Patching has multiple uses in eye care. These include:

  • Infection prevention after cataract surgery: Patching minimizes the risk of infection in the site of surgery. It also protects the eye wound from abrasion.  
  • Eye removal surgery: This procedure may be necessary if vision can’t be saved after severe eye injury or eye cancer. The patient may wear a pressure patch over the eye socket to minimize swelling and bruising.
  • Lazy eye (amblyopia) in kids: Patching can treat poor vision in one eye by covering the dominant eye.
  • Strabismus (crossed eyes): Kids with a squint can wear an eye patch to manage the eye problem.
  • Diplopia (double vision): Patching is an option for patients that develop double vision after brain injury.

How Do Eye Patches Affect Vision?

When worn over a dominant eye, patching often enables vision in the weaker eye to improve. In the case of children, it forces a child’s brain to accept and process images from the open, weaker eye.

While wearing an eye patch, your child will have poorer vision than before. This should get better with time if treatment works as expected.

However, don’t have your child wear an eye patch for longer than necessary. Overuse can affect vision in the dominant eye.

For people with double vision caused by brain trauma, patching may slow vision recovery.

Types of Eye Patches

There are different designs, types and uses of medical eye patches. Options include:

  • Adhesive patches: Sticky patches have an adhesive on the back to provide a snug fit over the eye.
  • Cloth patches: Your child can use these if they wear well-fitting glasses.
  • Tapes: These are sticky patches that attach to the lens and are only suitable for kids or adults that wear glasses.

How Do Eye Patches Help Treat Lazy Eye/Amblyopia? Strabismus?

Doctors use patches to treat focusing problems in children with lazy eye or strabismus.

Lazy Eye

If your child has lazy eye, their brain tends to ignore images that the weaker eye sends. Patching “penalizes” the stronger eye, inhibiting its ability to feed the brain for several hours a day.

With time, the weaker eye gets more active in capturing and supplying information to the brain. It gets better at focusing if the child patches consistently as directed by the doctor.

Strabismus

Crossed or squinty eyes can cause poor focusing in one eye. In that case, patching can treat the problem.

The child may also wear glasses if they have near or distant vision. In case of severe strabismus, surgery may be required to reposition the eyeball after treating lazy eye.

How to Wear an Eye Patch

The main idea is to block vision temporarily in the “stronger” eye. Here are some tips to get it right:

  • Ensure the patch adheres firmly on the skin around the eyes.
  • Don’t use pirate eye patches because they let kids peek around, circumventing treatment.
  • To avoid causing discomfort when removing an adhesive patch, apply a warm compress.
  • Apply petroleum jelly on the patched skin after removing the patch to ease skin irritation.  
  • Change to a hypoallergenic eye patch if your child has a skin allergy.
  • Use a non-sticky patch (such as cloth) if adhesive options cause too much discomfort.

The amount of patching time per day for each patient depends on the severity of the eye condition. Some patients may patch a few hours, such as six per day.

Others require full-time patching (during waking hours). Discuss the best treatment plan for your child.

Also, consider how each dosage option may impact treatment compliance and learning.   

Risk of Wearing an Eye Patch

Eye-patching to treat lazy eye or crossed eyes is largely safe and effective. Some negative issues that wearing an eye patch can cause include:

  • Skin irritation
  • Some kids may initially resist wearing patches
  • Your child has overall poorer vision when their dominant eye is covered (this can effect play and learning)
  • Some kids may experience bullying in school when they wear medical eye patches

Alternatives to Eye Patching

Patching isn’t the only way to treat lazy eye or other vision problems. Alternative therapies include:

  • Glasses
  • Eye drops
  • Surgery
  • Video games

Glasses

A child with lazy eye and nearsightedness or farsightedness may wear glasses along with patching. Also, factors other than amblyopia, which can’t be treated with eye patches, can cause poor vision in one eye.

Eye drops

Your child’s doctor may prescribe eye drops, such as atropine, to treat lazy eye. The numbing medication “weakens” vision in the dominant eye, forcing the weaker eye to improve.

Surgery

Kids with severe strabismus may require surgery after lazy eye treatment. The procedure repositions the eyeball to repair the squint.   

Video games

Video game therapy is a form of dichoptic training for patients with amblyopia. It differs from the other treatment options in that it involves both eyes instead of just the weaker eye.

Tips for Helping Children Wear Eye Patches

Some young children may not readily accept wearing an eye patch. With a little creativity, you can help your child use and benefit from this treatment.

Here are some practical ideas worth trying:

  • Talk to your child and help them understand the benefits of patching.
  • Reassure your child that it’s okay to patch an eye for medical reasons and there’s nothing to be ashamed about it.
  • Establish a supportive environment at home.
  • Encourage the child’s teacher to show support whenever possible, such as by complimenting them).
  • Choose fun, decorative eye patches (you can even let your child wear their preferred design).
  • Provide an enjoyable distraction during patching hours, such as video games.
  • Teach the child how to wear an eye patch.
  • Have younger kids wear arm restraints (occasionally) to prevent them from reaching for the eye patch.
  • Sometimes, wear an eye patch yourself and enjoy some fun activity together.

FAQs

Why does someone where an eye patch?

Children with lazy eye or a squint may wear an eye patch to improve vision in their weaker eye. In adults, patching may be required to protect the eye or eye sockets after eye surgery or removal.

What does an eye patch do?

An eye patch treats vision problems like lazy eye or crossed eyes. This therapy works by blocking vision in the dominant eye, forcing the weaker eye to get better at focusing.

References

  1. Bandage Lenses in the Postoperative Care for Cataract Surgery Patients: A Substitute for Eye Patch? (May 2018). Journal of Ophthalmology.

  2.  Enucleation and Evisceration: What to Expect. (September 2018). University of Iowa Health Care.

  3. Amblyopia: Lazy Eye Diagnosis & Treatment. (September 2021). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  4. Little Occlusion Goes a Long Way. (December 2016). Review of Optometry.

  5. Lazy Eye (Amblyopia) in Children: What are the Treatment Options for Lazy Eye (Amblyopia)? (January 2020). Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care.

  6. Patching Tips for Parents. (November 2021). American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology & Strabismus.

  7. Orthoptist: Occlusion Therapy Compliance. (February 2016). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  8. Dichoptic Training for Amblyopia. (April 2016). Ophthalmologe.

Last Updated February 28, 2022

Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.