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What Is Strabismus?

imagesTry an experiment. Lay two pencils parallel on a flat surface. Place any object a few inches directly in front of them. Now turn one of the pencils very slightly. Geometry says the two pencils are now at different angles from the object.

Imagine the pencils as eyes trying to carry you through life seeing everything from conflicting directions.  For someone with the vision condition strabismus, this is what happens every moment of every day. With strabismus, one eye or both are turned, sometimes visibly crossed, but often so slight that nobody realizes it, not even the person himself.

Eyes working together will send two equal images of an object to the brain which transmits back a third clear picture in “three dimensions” or 3-D. When someone with strabismus looks at an object, one eye sees the figure and the other eye sees it from a different position. As the brain receives two contradictory representations, it then produces a third image, often blurry, doubled, intermittent, and without depth.

Strabismus can create many problems due to the discomfort and frustration of trying to focus on words or objects which are blurred, doubled or moving around. These include:

  • Headaches and eyestrain
  • Short attention span, often causing a misdiagnosis of ADHD
  • Difficulty at school and with homework
  • Avoiding reading
  • Losing place often while reading
  • Misaligned handwriting
  • Unable to see the effects of a 3-D movie

Hand-eye coordination and depth perception are often poor, causing dilemmas with:

  • Navigating steps
  • Riding a bicycle
  • Catching, kicking or hitting a ball
  • Reaching for an object
  • Shaking someone’s hand
  • Handcrafts such as sewing or using scissors

In visibly crossed or turned eyes, a child also carries the burden of sometimes being teased by others, which can lead to self-esteem and behavioral issues as well.

Babies are often born with an eye turn which corrects after a few months. Strabismus can be caused by genetics, injury or disease, including tumors, making it important to get a proper diagnosis early. Some eyes turn only when fatigued, others wander at random times, while still others are turned all the time. The eyes can be turned inward, outward, up or down. Some doctors recommend surgery, but this cosmetic quick-fix does not solve the underlying problem and often reverts, requiring multiple surgeries, each one interrupting the connections between the brain and eyes.

Strabismus often creates other vision problems such as nearsightedness, as well as lazy eye when the brain gets tired of confusing images and chooses one eye to trust and one to ignore. The suppressed eye becomes weaker and can eventually lead to blindness.

In most cases you will not be able to look at yourself or your child and identify strabismus, unless the eye turn is so large that it is noticeable to others. It is also ordinary to pass the 20/20 eye exam, which only checks distance vision. The best way to diagnose strabismus is to have all areas of vision evaluated by a behavioral optometrist. Choose one trained in vision therapy, which has been very successful in treating strabismus and its symptoms.

After confirmation of strabismus, the doctor will likely recommend eyeglasses and vision therapy, which may include patching an eye. Vision therapy is an individualized program which includes games, activities and computer challenges, all aimed at helping the eyes to see clearly and equally together. Light therapy is also available to encourage the two eyes to work as one.

We are trained to help walk you through all of these steps, and you can read success stories about vision therapy and strabismus here. 

For more information about strabismus or to schedule a vision evaluation, please give us a call or contact our office. It is our joy to help “turn your vision” in the right direction!