Strabismus is a visual problem in which the eyes are not aligned properly and point in different directions. One eye may look straight ahead, while the other eye turns inward, outward, upward, or downward. The eye turn may be consistent, or it may come and go. Which eye is straight (and which is misaligned) may switch or alternate.
Sometimes children will squint one eye in bright sunlight or tilt their head to use their eyes together.
Six eye muscles, controlling eye movement, are attached to the outside of each eye. To line up and focus both eyes on a single target, all of the muscles in each eye must be balanced and working together. In order for the eyes to move together, the muscles in both eyes must be coordinated. The brain controls these muscles.
With normal vision, both eyes aim at the same spot. The brain then combines the two pictures into a single, three-dimensional image. This three-dimensional image gives us depth perception.
When one eye is out of alignment, two different pictures are sent to the brain. In a young child, the brain learns to ignore the image of the misaligned eye and sees only the image from the straight or better-seeing eye. The child then loses depth perception.
Adults who develop strabismus often have double vision because their brains have already learned to receive images from both eyes and cannot ignore the image from the turned eye. A child generally does not see double.
Strabismus is especially common among children with disorders that may affect the brain, such as: Cerebral palsy; down syndrome, hydrocephalus, brain tumors and prematurity.
A cataract or eye injury that affects vision can also cause strabismus. The vast majority of children with strabismus, however, have none of these problems. Many do have a family history of strabismus.
Treatment for strabismus works to straighten the eyes and restore binocular (two-eyed) vision. In some cases of strabismus, eyeglasses can be prescribed for your child to straighten the eyes. Other treatments may involve surgery to correct the unbalanced eye muscles or to remove a cataract. Patching or blurring the strong eye to improve amblyopia is often necessary.
Strabismus surgery in children requires general anesthesia. Before surgery, a medication is often given to children to alleviate their anxiety of being separated from their parent. In adults, the procedure can be done with general or local anesthesia. Either way, the patient must fast for about eight hours before the procedure. For this reason, pediatric cases are often scheduled in the early morning.
The eye is never removed to perform the surgery. The eyelids are gently held open with a lid speculum. A small opening is made through the conjunctiva (the mucous membrane surface of the eye) to access the muscle. The muscle is then weakened, strengthened or moved to change its action with dissolvable sutures. Most strabismus surgeries are less than one to two hours.