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Scientists at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, have confirmed what kids have been insisting for ages: playing video games can be good for you. Specifically, playing block-building games like Tetris can do more to fix lazy eye than traditional treatments.
Lazy eye (medical name: amblyopia) is a condition in which vision doesn't develop properly in one eye. It can cause permanent sight problems if left untreated, since the brain eventually just stops processing the blurry images coming from the underfunctioning eye. According to The Eye Digest, about 3 percent of people in the United States have amblyopia.
Find out how doctors use video games to improve lazy eye after the jump.
Doctors usually treat the problem by covering the stronger eye with an eye patch, which forces the weaker eye to do more work. The treatment can take months to work. When the condition isn't severe, some doctors use eye drops to blur vision in the patient's "good" eye in order to strengthen the "lazy" one.
In the McGill study, nine adults with longtime lazy eye were outfitted with special goggles that allowed one eye to see the falling Tetris blocks at the top of the screen and the other eye to see only the blocks lined up at the bottom. Another group of nine adults (also suffering from lazy eye), had their stronger eyes patched before playing the block-stacking video game. After just two weeks of playing Tetris, the adults with the special goggles showed "a dramatic improvement" in their weaker eyes, as well as better 3D depth perception. The group that wore eye patches later switched to the goggles, and their vision also improved dramatically, the researchers explained.
Researchers think that the video game helped treat the lazy eye problem by forcing both eyes to work as a team, rather than trying to strengthen the weaker eye by itself.
"When we get the two eyes working together, we find the vision improves," lead researcher Dr. Robert Hess, the director of Research Department of Ophthalmology at McGill University of the McGill University Health Centre, said in a statement. "It's much better than patching, much more enjoyable, it's faster, and it seems to work better."
Other video games could also do the same trick as long as the eyes have to work together, Hess said in his study, which was published in the journal Current Biology. A larger clinical trial is already underway to see if the technique can help kids with lazy eye.
Lazy eye usually develops in children who are younger than 7 years old, but it can be difficult for parents to recognize the symptoms, which include squinting with the weaker eye, a drooping upper eyelid, and both eyes not operating in sync. Most kids don't even realize that they're only using their "good" eye. Kids who are born prematurely or have a low birth weight are especially at risk, WebMD.com reports, and if left untreated, the condition can affect them as adults.
This isn't the first time that video games have been found to improve vision. In 2009, researchers found that playing games helped adults sharpen their "contrast sensitivity," making it easier for them to drive at night or when visibility is poor. And in 2011, a study of 100 people in a clinic in India also found that playing video games helps teenagers with lazy eye improve their eyesight.
— Lylah M. Alphonse