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Learning About Strabismus in Children

Child with right eye pointing toward nose and left eye pointing straight

What is strabismus?

Strabismus means that both eyes don't look at the same thing at the same time. One eye may look straight ahead while the other eye looks in another direction. It is sometimes called "cross-eye" or "walleye."

It occurs when the eye muscles don't work together to move both eyes in the same direction at the same time. This sends two different images to the brain. In a young child with strabismus, the brain chooses to receive the images from only one eye.

Childhood strabismus often has no known cause, though it tends to run in families. Sometimes it develops when the eyes try to make up for other vision problems. Other things that can put a child at risk for strabismus include an illness that affects the muscles and nerves, premature birth, Down syndrome, a head injury, and other problems.

Treatment should begin as soon as possible. The younger your child is when treatment starts, the better the chances are of correcting the problem.

What happens when your child has strabismus?

When one eye isn't used enough, the visual system in the brain may not develop as it should. The brain may ignore the images from the weaker eye and use only the images from the stronger eye. This can lead to poor vision in the weaker eye.

What are the symptoms?

The most common signs are:

  • Eyes that don't look in the same direction at the same time.
  • Eyes that don't move together.
  • Squinting or closing one eye in bright sunlight.
  • Tilting or turning the head to look at an object.
  • Bumping into things.

How is strabismus treated?

The most common treatments are:

  • Glasses. They can sometimes correct mild strabismus.
  • A temporary eye patch that your child may wear over the stronger eye. Your doctor may suggest this if your child sees better out of one eye than the other. This can make the weak eye stronger. It also may help align the eyes.
  • Surgery on the eye muscles. This is often the only way to better align the eyes. It may take more than one surgery. Your child may still need to wear glasses.

Other treatments may include medicines and eye exercises.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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