What is strabismus?

Q: My child's eyes look crossed sometimes. Is this strabismus?

A: It's normal for a newborn baby's eyes to cross or wander when she's tired. But if you're still seeing your child's eyes cross after she's 3 months old, it could be strabismus, and you should talk to the pediatrician. Sometimes a child isn't actually cross-eyed at all, but a slight asymmetry of the face (like the bridge of the nose being wide) can make it appear that way. This usually goes away as your baby grows.

If your pediatrician agrees that your child may have strabismus, she'll likely recommend that you see a pediatric ophthalmologist. Strabismus usually occurs because of an eye muscle imbalance, where a weak muscle causes one or both eyes to turn in, out, up, or down. Many times this imbalance is hereditary, but it can also stem from a problem with the part of the brain that controls the muscles and nerves in the eyes. In other cases, focusing problems (like being very farsighted) can also cause one eye to turn in when straining to see clearly. Strabismus affects about 2 percent of kids and is usually easily managed when caught and treated right away. But if left unchecked, it can affect your child's vision development, especially depth perception.

Treatment usually involves strengthening your child's weaker eye so that both eyes work equally well. Common options include having your child wear a patch or putting drops in the "good" eye, which makes it harder to see out of (causing the weaker eye to step up and work harder). If both eyes are crossed, your child may need special glasses to encourage the eye muscles to reposition. Some children may need surgery to straighten out their eyes.

 Copyright 2009 Meredith Corporation.


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