When Cathy Thompson's daughter, Mackenzie, was diagnosed with amblyopia, or "lazy eye," in 1997, the options for eye patches were slim. Mackenzie, 3, struggled with her eye patching therapy and Thompson was at a loss for how to keep her daughter motivated to wear a patch for the "all day, every day" time period prescribed.
"At the time, the only eye patches available were the beige stick-on style or the old black 'pirate' eye patches," Thompson told TODAY Parents. "When she wore her stick-on eye patch, strangers would think she had injured her eye and were constantly asking her what was wrong with it. She was embarrassed and self conscious, so I set out to design an eye patch that would make her eye patching time more comfortable and fun."
Thompson created an eye patch that slid onto Mackenzie's eyeglasses and decorated it with a kitten design. Her daughter loved the new patch, and the attention she'd receive when people commented on how cute her "kitty patch" was.
Seeing her daughter's boosted confidence, Thompson began selling more of her patches in Mackenzie's eye doctor's office and later, online. Today, Thompson owns Patch Pals, a website that sells comfortable and creative eye patches for all ages and offers support to families who are using patches.
Thompson is not the only mom seeking to make a change to the eye patch market. Paige Brattin, founder and CEO of See Worthy Patches, started searching for different patch options when she learned her then 5-year-old daughter was going blind.
"Our only choice to save and strengthen her vision was patching, but soon into the journey, we realized the products available left a lot of room for improvement," said Brattin.
So Brattin create colorful, printed adhesive patches that give kids an option to express themselves during their patching therapy. "I created these patches because it was a product that hadn't seen innovation in too long. Too many families use patches — 18 million in the U.S. alone — to not see an upgrade."
Dr. Randy McLaughlin, an optometrist and associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says the majority of kids who need eye patching therapy are being treated for amblyopia, an eye condition often known as "lazy eye" that reduces vision in one eye due to problems with visual development as a child.
"The patient is asked to patch the 'good' eye, forcing them to use the other eye and encouraging ongoing visual development," said McLaughlin, adding about two to three % of the population are diagnosed with the condition. "The earlier (patching) is started the better the possible result, reducing the amount of amblyopia"
Krissy Bonning-Gould, a blogger living in New York, created homemade patches for her son, Sawyer, to make his prescribed eye patching "less scary and more fun."
"After playing around with some felt I had in our craft bin, I realized I could easily sew a softer, more practical patch," said Bonning-Gould. "Then, I took Sawyer to the craft store to pick out his favorite kid-print fabrics for his very own, 'very cool' patches."
Bonning-Gould posted a tutorial on her blog to help other parents dealing with amblyopia learn to make their own patches. The mom of three quickly realized she wasn't alone in her eye patching journey.
"I have loved getting comments and messages of gratitude from fellow moms who have found the tutorial and had success with it," said Bonning-Gould. "Having kids with special needs can feel pretty lonely sometimes, but the internet, blogging and social media has allowed me to connect with other moms who really understand."