Strabismus is a condition in which the eyes are misaligned, meaning one eye may be straight while the other is turned inward, outward, upward, or downward. Amblyopia or other cause of poor vision often accompanies strabismus. Strabismus affects about 3-4% of children and can continue through life, and in some instances, can begin in adulthood.
Good alignment of the eyes during childhood allows normal vision to develop. The first approximately nine years of life are particularly important because this is the period when the brain is developing vision. With strabismus, the abnormal alignment may cause amblyopia or poor vision development. The brain will usually only use the straight eye and “turn off” the misaligned eye. In addition to developing amblyopia, loss of binocular vision, which is related to depth perception, may occur. Early diagnosis and treatment of strabismus is important and can directly affect outcome with respect to vision and binocular vision.
Children’s eyes should be examined as part of regular check-ups by a pediatrician or family physician from infancy through the school years. Infants’ eyes are often slightly misaligned during the first month of life. However, large degrees of misalignment or constant misalignment persisting beyond about one month of age should be evaluated. It is often difficult for parents to determine whether their babies’ eyes are misaligned. The pediatrician and the ophthalmologist can help determine whether an infant has strabismus.
Strabismus may be treated in a variety of ways, depending on its cause. Treatment options include glasses, eye exercises, patching and occasionally eye drops. In some cases, surgery to reposition the eye muscles may be necessary. In general, if any form of treatment is required, the earlier in life it is initiated, the better the child’s chance of developing normal vision.