Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I'm writing you on behalf of the children in this country who are in danger of losing their eyesight to amblyopia or "lazy eye." Parents are often completely unaware there is any problem with their child's vision. Because amblyopia usually affects only one eye, children can see -- but have only monocular vision. Children don't realize they should be able to see through both eyes. One child was diagnosed after a bump to the eye. When he said, "I can't see the television; I hurt the eye I see with," his mom, a licensed optician, had the first indication that something was wrong!

Abby, 2 to 3 percent of the population has amblyopia. When this condition is detected before the age of 3, approximately 95 percent recover their vision. After the age of 6, it can be difficult to totally correct. Parents need to be sure their young children receive a comprehensive examination that checks the functioning of each eye.

For parents and children who are well aware of amblyopia, I am happy to report that there is a new support program for them. The Eye Patch Club offers suggestions and support for dealing with the challenges posed by amblyopia. -- MARK RUTTUM, M.D., DEPARTMENT OF OPHTHALMOLOGY, MEDICAL COLLEGE OF WISCONSIN

DEAR DR. RUTTUM: I was shocked to learn that one preschooler in 20 has a vision problem that could cause permanent loss of sight if left untreated. The Eye Patch Club, sponsored by Prevent Blindness America (also known as the National Society to Prevent Blindness), is a tool that parents of children with amblyopia can use to help them strengthen their "lazy eye." Patching or covering the stronger eye forces the weaker eye to work. The patient wears the patch for a few weeks (or longer), which helps to strengthen vision.

Of course, the child must regularly visit the eye doctor to measure improvement in the amblyopic eye. And, at first, a child may feel frustrated while wearing the patch over the stronger eye. That's where the Eye Patch Club lends support.

Prevent Blindness America not only offers The Eye Patch Club, it also provides information about the warning signs of eye trouble in children, ideas on how to make a trip to the eye doctor fun and easy for children, and more detailed information about amblyopia. For free information, call 1-800-331-2020. (What an appropriate telephone number!)

DEAR ABBY: A while ago I read a letter in your column about a 17-year-old named Brandon McCoy who, every year on his birthday, has a party and asks his friends to bring gifts for charity. It inspired me to model my own attitude after Brandon's giving spirit.

I too am 17. I love parties, so last Christmas I hosted a party and requested $5 donations. It was a huge success! I raised more than $100 for a local home for abused children and had a great time doing it.

I'd like to thank Brandon for the inspiration. Society tends to have a negative view of teen-agers, but he is living proof that we're not all bad. -- MARYBETH BARTELT, ST. LOUIS

DEAR MARYBETH: I'm pleased that Brandon's story touched and inspired you. Acts of generosity, especially on the part of activist teens like you and Brandon, enhance the quality of life for all of us and deserve to be acknowledged.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600