Crossed eyes (or strabismus) occur when a person’s eyes are not able to align on the same point at the same time, and appear to be misaligned or pointed in different directions.
Usually this results from weakness of the muscles in one or both eyes. The weak eye will turn in toward the nose and away from the object that it is supposed to be focused on. The eye that turns off-target may be the same in every incidence, or it could be a different eye at different times.
In the initial stages, crossed eyes can cause disorientation or double vision because the eyes don't align together. A young child with strabismus will unconsciously reject the image of the improperly aligned eye and the related nerve connections between their eye and brain may fail to develop. This can lead to the eye remaining permanently turned – known as amblyopia, or lazy eye.
Crossed eyes develop most often in babies. It is easier to correct when caught early. This is is often not a condition babies or children simply outgrow so children with eyes that seem to be misaligned should be examined and treated if necessary.
What Causes Crossed Eyes?
There are many different causes for crossed eyes and it does seem to run in families. In some cases, it may be caused by severe farsightedness that has been left untreated. Significant head trauma may also cause crossed eyes, as it can affect the portion of the brain that controls eye muscles.
Signs of Crossed Eyes
The most obvious sign of crossed eyes is when the eyes appear to be pointed in different directions. There are, however, more signs of crossed eyes that can most often be observed in children, including:
- Eyes that do not move together
- Unsymmetrical points of reflection in each eye
- Tilting the head to one side
- Inability to gauge depth
- Squinting with only one eye
Treatments for Crossed Eyes
In order to improve vision, the weakened muscles in the affected eye or eyes must be put to work. Several treatments may be used alone or in combination, depending on the type, severity, and cause of strabismus, including:
- Eyeglasses or contact lenses – this method may help people who have crossed eyes due to an uncorrected farsightedness
- Injected medication –commonly known as Botox, the injection relaxes the contracted muscles in the eyes, making it easier for eyes to focus where they need to.
- Surgery – straightens and realigns muscles in the eyes; this method has a high success rate although it is expensive and involves more risk than other options.
- Patching or covering the better-seeing eye – similar to eye drops or ointment, this method works to strengthen the weakened eye.
Visit Prevent Blindness America to learn about The Eye Patch Club
Photo courtesy of National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health.