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Crossed Eyes (strabismus)

While it might seem obvious that being cross eyed means your eyes don’t line up normally, there is a lot more to crossed eyes than their appearance.

Strabismus is the official term for crossed eyes, but other names for it include tropia, eye turns, wall eyed, and wandering eye. Contrary to common opinion, being cross eyed is not the same as having a lazy eye, although strabismus can lead to a lazy eye.

Amblyopia, the medical term for lazy eye syndrome, is not always detectable by the naked eye. The brain partially or totally blocks off visual input from the lazy eye in a process called suppression which can lead to permanent functional damage to the eye if it goes untreated.

Unlike amblyopia, strabismus is essentially a result of a miscommunication between the brain and the muscles around the eye, leading to a misalignment of the eyes. Strabismus has many varieties and causes (including heredity), and it appears most often in young children.

It is normal for children under 6 months of age to experience occasional crossed eyes (intermittent strabismus) because their brains are still developing the ability to see normally; they will likely grow out of it. If crossed eyes (constant strabismus), become a recurring problem in children over 6 months the child should receive treatment immediately to prevent the condition from getting worse.

If left untreated, strabismus can cause children to have trouble in school, among other things. It often causes double vision which can lead to eye strain, headaches, and attention problems, and frustration. Children with strabismus also have a higher risk of nearsightedness.

Some of the most common types of strabismus include:

  • Small-angle – slight misalignment of the eyes
  • Large-angle – significant misalignment of the eyes
  • Esotropia – inward turning of the eye(s). Types include congenital, infantile, accommodative, and amblyopic
  • Exotropia – outward deviation of the eye(s). Types include constant, intermittent, and alternating
  • Hypertropia – upward deviation of the eye(s)
  • Duane’s Syndrome – difficulty moving eyes laterally and retraction of the eye

Common treatments for these and other kinds of strabismus include special eye drops, eye patches, appropriate eyewear, vision therapy, and—in extreme cases—surgery. Most of the time, strabismus can be fixed if caught early enough and treated appropriately.

To help prevent your child from experiencing problems in the classroom and permanent vision problems, you should schedule regular children’s eye exams with your VSP network eye doctor.