What Is Strabismus and How Can It Be Treated

Woman with strabismus

What Is Strabismus?

Strabismus occurs when the eyes aren't properly aligned. Commonly called "crossed eyes," the condition affects about four percent of the U.S. population, according to the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus.

What Causes Strabismus?

Strabismus can occur if the eye muscles are weak or damaged. It may also happen as a result of a nerve issue or due to a problem in the part of the brain that controls eye muscle movements. Children who have certain conditions, such as cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, may be more likely to have strabismus.

Most people associate strabismus with eyes that turn inward, but the condition may cause the eyes to turn upward, downward, or to the side. Even slight variations in eye alignment can lead to vision problems.

It's not uncommon to see crossed eyes in young infants, although eye alignment usually improves after the first few months. Alignment issues that continue longer may need to be treated to prevent vision problems.

Why Is Strabismus a Problem?

Your vision may be affected if your brain receives different images from your eyes due to the misalignment. If you have strabismus, you may experience blurry or double vision, headaches, eyestrain, and depth perception problems. You may also notice that it's easier to see if you tilt your head. Concentration problems and difficulty reading can also happen if your eyes aren't aligned correctly. Difficulty focusing on near objects may also occur, as can motion sickness.

If the condition isn't treated, you may develop amblyopia (lazy eye) as a result. In amblyopia, the brain eventually becomes overwhelmed by the mismatched input it receives and ignores the information provided by one of your eyes.

Symptoms of amblyopia can also include blurry vision and problems with depth perception. If you have the condition, you may assume that you're just naturally clumsy because you constantly bump into things.

Does Strabismus Only Affect Children?

Strabismus can be a problem even if you're an adult. The condition may not have been diagnosed and treated when you were a child, or you may have developed it as an adult. A head or eye injury could cause strabismus, as could a stroke, issues with blood vessels, diabetes, a nerve condition, or a thyroid disorder. Fortunately, your vision can improve no matter what your age.

How Is Strabismus Treated?

Treatment options for strabismus include:

  • Exercises: Exercises help your eyes work together and can be helpful if you have trouble with near vision. Pencil pushups are one type of exercise that can improve your ability to see close items clearly. You'll keep your gaze fixed on the pencil as you move it closer to your face. When your vision blurs, you'll start the exercise over again. If you practice every day, you may soon notice that you can move the pencil closer to your face without experiencing blurred vision.
  • Prism Lenses: Prism eyeglass lenses change the way light rays bend when they enter your eyes. The lenses keep light rays focused directly on your retinas, preventing double vision and other strabismus symptoms.
  • Surgery: Surgery may be needed if your eye muscles are weak or don't work properly. The procedure is performed on both children and adults, although it's somewhat more successful in children.

Do you think that you or your child may have strabismus? Contact our office to schedule an appointment to discuss your concerns.

Sources:

American Academy for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, 2/12/18: Strabismus

American Academy of Ophthalmology: What Is Adult Strabismus?, 5/29/20

All About Vision: Strabismus And Crossed Eyes, 1/17

Harvard Health Publishing: Crossed Eyes, 12/18

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