Extensive video game playing can help improve amblyopia in adults, according to a pilot study in the August 30 online edition of PLoS Biology. Although there are several effective methods of amblyopia correction for pediatric patients, including occlusion therapy and atropine drops, there are no proven treatment options for adults.

In this study, researchers recruited 20 adults with amblyopia aged 15 to 61 years. The patients were randomized into one of three treatment arms: an “action” videogame group; a “non-action” videogame group; and a control group.

Patients in the action group were asked to wear an occlusion patch over their good eye and were instructed to play Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault, a fast-paced, first-person shooter.

Patients in the non-action group were asked to wear an occlusion patch over their good eye and were instructed to play SimCity Societies, a slower-paced, construction and management simulation.

Finally, patients in the control group received conventional occlusion therapy only. Patients in both gaming groups played for 40 total hours, two hours at a time, over the course of one month.

At one-month follow-up, the researchers determined that patients who spent 40 hours playing either game exhibited a 30% improvement (1.5 LogMAR lines) in visual acuity from baseline. In comparison, the researchers noted that patients often require a minimum of 120 hours of occlusion therapy alone to gain just one LogMAR line.

Additionally, patients in both gaming groups experienced average improvements of 16% in positional acuity, 37% in spatial attention and 54% in stereopsis.

“This study is the first to show that video game play is useful for improving blurred vision in adults with amblyopia,” said lead author Roger Li, O.D., Ph.D., research optometrist at the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and School of Optometry at University of California, Berkeley. “Very surprisingly, besides enhanced visual attention, all participants showed a remarkable improvement in amblyopic visual acuity following a short period of video game play.”

Despite these findings, Dr. Li noted that further research is required to determine the clinical safety of video game therapy. “It is very important that patients should not try self-treating amblyopia,” he said. “Patients should consult their eye doctors. Response to treatment must be closely monitored to avoid possible unwanted conditions, such as double vision, reverse amblyopia, eye strain and headache.”

Li RW, Ngo C, Nguyen J, Levi DM. Video-game play induces plasticity in the visual system of adults with amblyopia. PLoS Biol. 2011 Aug;9(8):e1001135. Epub 2011 Aug 30.