Strabismus is often referred to as crossed eyes, but it can present in several different ways. The American Optometric Association defines strabismus as a “condition in which both eyes do not look at the same place at the same time.” It can present as one eye drifting inward (esotropia), outward (exotropia), upward (hypertropia), or downward (hypotropia). Strabismus most often occurs in babies and toddlers due to heredity or problems during physical development. Most cases in children are caused by poor communication between the brain, muscles, and nerves of the eye. However, it can also occur in adults who have suffered a stroke, head trauma, or diabetes.
The condition can lead to double vision, a lack of depth perception, and even loss of eyesight if left untreated. Treatments range from prescription eyewear to surgery to align the eyes. However, many vision therapy programs now incorporate exercises for the eyes as well. These can help to improve coordination.
Exercises should not be considered a substitute for medical treatment. Because the causes and manifestations of strabismus vary widely, patient-driven eye exercises alone should not be considered as an exclusive treatment. But some of these exercises are:
- The Pencil Exercise: This exercise is called HBPP (Home Based Pencil Push-Ups) and will help to engage both eyes on the same fixed point. Hold out a pencil (or a pen) directly in front of you and choose a focal point (this could be the tip of the pencil, the eraser at the end or a letter/numeral on the side) and keep both eyes fixed on this area. Slowly, slowly moved the pen / pencil closer towards you and towards the tip of your nose. Keep the pencil in focus for as long as you can and stop the exercise as soon as everything turns blurry.
- Brock String Exercise: Developed by Swiss optometrist Frederick Brock, this exercise is designed to help improve your eye coordination. If you suffer from one lazy eye always doing its own thing, the Brock String Exercise will encourage both eyes to work together. Use a piece of string (between 5 and 12 inches long) and thread it with three different coloured beads at equal distance from one another. Stick one end of the string to a rail or pin it to the wall and hold the other end of the string to your nose. Take it in turns to look at each bead and you should see the same thing every time; the bead you are focussing on should appear to be at the intersection of two identical strings forming an “X” shape. If the “X” appears before or after the bead you’re focusing on then it means that one of your eyes is not looking at the bead. Keep practising until you get it right with all three beads.
- Computer Therapy: If you want a go-to exercise that is quick and easy, there are many computer-based eye exercise programmes that could help improve the muscle movement of your eye(s). This one found on Youtube is free of charge and can help to encourage better movement of the eye around the eye socket. Sit 1 – 2 feet in distance away from your screen, cover your healthy eye (or take it in turns to cover each eye) and follow the red dot around the screen. Make sure you keep your focus on the red dot and don’t get distracted by the black and white background.