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Strabismus - Topic Overview

What is strabismus?

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Strabismus (say "struh-BIZ-mus") is a vision problem in which both eyes do not look at the same point at the same time. Strabismus most often begins in early childhood. It is sometimes called crossed-eyes, walleye, or squint.

Normally, the muscles attached to each eye work together to move both eyes in the same direction at the same time. Strabismus occurs when the eye muscles don't work properly to control eye movement. When the eye muscles don't work as they should, the eyes may become misaligned and the brain may not be able to merge what one eye sees with what the other eye sees.

A child rarely outgrows strabismus after it has developed. Without treatment, strabismus can cause permanent vision problems. For example, if the child is not using one eye because it is misaligned, he or she can develop poor vision in that eye (called lazy eye or amblyopia).

Having strabismus can be hard on your child's self-esteem. It affects your child's appearance as well as his or her ability to see well. Other kids may tease your child for being cross-eyed or having a walleye. Be supportive of your child, and seek treatment right away.

What causes strabismus?

Childhood strabismus often has no known cause, although it tends to run in families.

Sometimes strabismus develops when the eyes compensate for other vision problems, such as farsightedness or a cataract. Other things that can increase your child's risk for strabismus include an illness that affects the muscles and nerves, premature birth, Down syndrome, a head injury, and other problems.

Adults may develop strabismus from eye or blood vessel damage. Loss of vision, an eye tumor or a brain tumor, Graves' disease, stroke, and various muscle and nerve disorders can also cause strabismus in adults.

What are the symptoms?

The most common signs are:

  • Eyes that don't look in the same direction at the same time. (If your child's eyes are only slightly misaligned, you may not notice.)
  • 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. (Strabismus limits depth perception.)
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