Although amblyopia can be successfully treated with patching or atropine, there have been few prospective studies of amblyopia recurrence once treatment is stopped.
We enrolled 156 children with successfully treated anisometropic or strabismic amblyopia (145 completed follow up), less than 8 years of age, who received continuous amblyopia treatment for the previous 3 months (prescribed at least 2 hours of daily patching or prescribed at least one drop of atropine per week) and who had improved at least 3 logMAR levels during the period of continuous treatment. Patients were followed off treatment for 52 weeks to assess recurrence of amblyopia, defined as a 2 or more logMAR level reduction of visual acuity from enrollment, confirmed by a second exam. Recurrence was also considered to have occurred if treatment was restarted due to a non-replicated 2 or more logMAR level reduction of visual acuity.
Recurrence occurred in 35 (24%) of 145 cases (95% confidence interval 17% to 32%) and was similar in patients who stopped patching (25%) and in patients who stopped atropine (21%). In patients treated with moderately intense patching (6 to 8 hours per day), recurrence was more common (11 of 26, 42%) when treatment was not reduced prior to cessation than when treatment was reduced to 2 hours per day prior to cessation (3 of 22, 14%, odds ratio 4.4, 95% confidence interval 1.0 to 18.7).
Approximately one fourth of successfully-treated amblyopic children experience a recurrence within the first year off treatment. For patients treated with 6 or more hours of daily patching, our data suggest that the risk of recurrence is greater when patching is stopped abruptly rather than when it is reduced to 2 hours per day prior to cessation. A randomized clinical trial of no weaning versus weaning in successfully-treated amblyopia is warranted to confirm these observational findings.