Doctors now use 3-D technology to correct lazy eye

For decades, children who had ambylopia, commonly called lazy eye, wore special glasses and eye patches. Patching the good eye forced the "lazy" one to work harder, improving vision.

As technology progresses, new techniques have emerged to correct this problem, and the makers of Vivid Vision believe their 3-D virtual reality system, works even better.

Rather than patching the good eye, forcing the eyes work separately, patients are fitted with a contact lens to boost vision in the weak eye. This allows the eyes to work together, simultaneously sending signals to the brain for processing.

Optometrist Dr. Nathan Bonilla-Warford, of Bright Eyes Vision in Tampa, began offering the treatment to patients in early 2016. He believes it will be a game-changer.

"It's so much more engaging and it provides so much more visual feedback for patients, that I think it's going to become a standard part of vision therapy," Bonilla-Warford says.

Vivid Vision was created by a researcher, James Blaha, who suffered from strabismus, or crossed eyes. By playing a series of virtual reality games, he was able to improve his own vision, and eventually developed the program for others to use.

As a beta tester, Bonilla-Warford was on board quickly, but admits he was a little skeptical at first.

"I was very surprised at how effective this is. I knew that applying virtual reality to some of the principles that we use in vision therapy would be more engaging for our patients, but i didn't realize how quickly I was going to be able to see changes in their vision," Bonilla-Warford explains.

People with one weak eye tend to use their stronger eye so much, the weak eye becomes even weaker. With less input coming from the lazy eye, messages sent to the brain become distorted. That causes problems with depth perception, hand-eye coordination and the ability to appreciate three dimensional images.

Rebekah Nault's son, Ben is using the system.

"In about two or three weeks, he just started getting better, recognizing shadows, and his drawings started taking on three dimensional hints," Nault said.

The second-grader was diagnosed a year ago during a routine eye screening test at school. Looking back, there were easily-missed clues that Ben had a problem including a trip to a theme park in Orlando. Ben just didn't seem impressed with the 3-D attractions.

"His entire life, we just thought they just didn't impress him... We thought, maybe because it was normal to him. It was a big deal for my husband and I to experience these things. We didn't have it growing up... but little did we know, everything to him was flat," she said.

When asked what the 3-D once looked like, Ben replied, "I was seeing basically red and kind of bluish outlines when I went to the 3-D things, and I was kind of thinking is that supposed to be happening?"

Now, using the Vivid Vision virtual reality glasses, he's not only able to see 3-D, he's able to virtually pop 3-D-bubbles using a virtual 3-D hand.

Ben's hand-eye coordination is also improving. He's now better able to catch and throw a baseball.

Bonilla-Warford says the system has been successful in treating both adults, well into their 50's and beyond, as well as children. The cost varies, but may be as high as $3,000. He will soon be beta testing a new system that can be used at home. If it works, it could cut the cost down to less than $1,000.