Becoming a Patching Parent: Getting Started
The Children’s Eye Foundation is grateful to have parents willing to share the knowledge they’ve gained while navigating the world of childhood vision. A very big thank you to Gus’ mom, Carrie Groleau for writing this blog series for CEF, which has been endorsed by pediatric ophthalmologists on the CEF Editorial Committee. We know you’ll find her wisdom and insight incredibly helpful on your successful patching experience!
“Unlike other medical treatments and therapies, patching is ultimately the parents’ responsibility. Understanding why your child needs this important therapy—and how it works—will help you keep the goal of improved vision in sight. When patching gets hard, remember that you are doing this FOR your child, not TO your child. Don’t give up!”– Carrie Groleau, Patching Parent
When my son Gus was five days old, I learned he had been born with a cataract in his left eye. His pediatric ophthalmologist explained, in addition to surgery and vision correction, Gus would need to wear a patch over his stronger, dominant eye as treatment for a condition called amblyopia. His brain held a natural preference for his right eye and would need to learn to see with his weaker eye independently in order to strengthen his vision. As news of my newborn’s diagnosis set in, my mind raced through endless questions and fears, and to be honest, I was more afraid of patching than cataract surgery! The idea of covering my baby’s strong eye daily throughout his early childhood was hard to accept, but I knew patching would give Gus his only chance to see with both eyes. I understood patching would be challenging and it would take time for his brain to register with his affected eye, but I held onto hope that, eventually, Gus’ brain would respond to patch therapy, and it did!
While this journey has been an exhausting, emotional rollercoaster at times, I am continually amazed at how much Gus’ vision has improved thanks to our dedication to patching.
Gus has been patching for half his wakeful hours since January 2017 and we expect him to patch for many years. I know first-hand that the results are worth the effort! Throughout this process, I have found several keys to successful patching that I’ll be sharing on the Children’s Eye Foundation blog over the next four weeks. My perspective is based on research, interviews with parents of older children who patch or who are finished with patching, and my personal experience as a patching parent and certified K-12 teacher.
Over the course of this 4-part series on patching, I’ll share about getting started, encouraging compliance, patch-time play, and finally, advocacy, school support and self-care.
Your New Role
The first stage of becoming a patching parent is to accept your new role as a facilitator of vision rehabilitation. Unlike other medical treatments and therapies, patching is ultimately the parents’ responsibility. Understanding why your child needs this important therapy—and how it works—will help you keep the goal of improved vision in sight.
Patch therapy, also referred to as occlusion therapy, is prescribed to treat various forms of amblyopia and/or strabismus. Typically, during this treatment, a child’s stronger eye will be covered with an eye patch, which forces the brain to rely on the weaker eye, forcing the brain to improve, or rewire, its neurologic connections for vision in the weaker eye. This process allows vision in the weaker eye to improve over time. A child’s prescribed patching regimen will vary from case to case depending on the patient’s diagnosis, age, and severity. Pediatric ophthalmologists are trained experts in the fields of amblyopia and strabismus and can answer questions about your child’s specific needs. They may also provide additional resources as needed.
Likely, your first step will be to purchase occlusion patches for your child. Adhesive patches are considered ideal as they offer full occlusion, blocking all light from entering the stronger eye’s field of vision. Adhesive patches may be ordered online or purchased in select pharmacies. Adhesive patches come in different sizes to accommodate children of all ages and are made in an assortment of colors and patterns to make patching more fun! You can also purchase plain patches and decorate them with colored pencils, waterproof gel pens, fabric markers, stickers, or temporary tattoos.
When applying an adhesive eye patch, place the more narrow side along the nose bridge, making sure the occlusion pad is centered over your child’s eye. Then rub your fingers along the adhesive to help it stick to your child’s skin. When removing the patch, start at the bridge of the nose and pull back slowly toward the ear by lifting the outer edges of the patch first while pressing the opposite side against the skin. Using this technique should help alleviate redness and skin irritation. You can further reduce the risk of irritation by sticking the patch to your clothing before applying, or by placing a barrier between the skin and patch. Examples include medical skin prep, milk of magnesia, or thin strips of 3M Kind Removal silicone tape, which is extremely gentle and can be reapplied. Some parents find applying a warm compress beforehand can loosen the adhesive and make for gentler removal. Understand that your child’s skin will be more sensitive to the patch in the beginning and should adapt with time. If one brand’s adhesive continually irritates your child’s skin, try a different brand. You can also apply Aquaphor or coconut oil after removing the patch to soothe the skin.
While adhesive patches offer guaranteed occlusion, there are certain circumstances when adhesive patches aren’t a viable option. In these instances, many patients wear a fabric eye patch that fits over eyeglasses. Please note: not all fabric patches are created equal. If light is able to enter the covered eye from any angle, or if a child is able to cheat while wearing their patch, therapy will not be nearly as effective, and in some cases may not be effective at all. There are countless fabric patches sold across the internet, but unfortunately, many do not offer full occlusion. I recommend Framehuggers brand eye patches as a fabric alternative to adhesive patches. Framehuggers can be customized with your child’s favorite color and character design. These fabric patches feature a three-dimensional design and fit securely over glasses to prevent shifting and peaking.
An alternative to traditional patching is to apply prescribed atropine drops to the stronger eye. Atropine drops force the patient to rely on their weaker eye by temporarily blurring vision in the stronger eye. Ask your pediatric ophthalmologist if atropine drops are an option for your child.
Other great links for patches online:
Don’t Give Up!
Understand the first few days of patching will be some of the hardest of your entire journey. Vision improvement from patch therapy takes time, so expect tears, stay strong, and don’t be surprised if your child needs more sleep during this transition.
When patching gets hard, remember that you are doing this FOR your child, not TO your child. Try to keep patching positive and maintain an attitude of empathy, strength, and love. After all, you are patching because you want what is best for your child in the long-term. Rather than focus on the hardships that can come with patching, try to think of this time as an incredible opportunity to help your child gain the best vision possible, vision that will last a lifetime.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of CEF’s Series on Patching in next week’s blog, where I’ll share practical tips and tricks for encouraging compliance through consistency, persistence, and rewards.
If you’d like to learn more about Gus and our daily adventures in patching, follow us on Instagram @patchwithgus where I chronicle our vision journey and provide additional patching support.
Enter our Giveaway!
CEF is so excited to offer our first ever giveaway! Sign up for the newsletter from the Children’s Eye Foundation or like us on Facebook for your chance to win a fabulous patching prize pack! Each action gets you an entry into our drawing. Giveaway winner will be selected on May 31st!
Our Super Patching Giftset includes some amazing items to help you and your child on their patching journey. Total approximate value is $300
- Hardback Copy of Jacob’s Eye Patch by Beth Kobliner Shaw & Jacob Shaw
- Patching reward poster, coloring and activity book, My Patching Booklet, and 1 box of unisex adhesive patches from Ortopad USA
- Complete adhesive patch collection from See Worthy Patches = 4 boxes of 50 patches for 200 total patches
- Framehuggers patching gift set including custom Framehuggers fabric patch for glasses with color and design of choice, Headhuggers glasses retainer, and patching reward game
- Eye Power Kids Wear awareness t-shirt of choice with accessories pack
- Custom patching doll from The Giggle Worm on Etsy
- Parent gift from Carrie Groleau @PatchWithGus, including patching reward stickers from PaperLemonadeCo on Etsy