Did you know that there are six muscles attached to your eye to control eye movement? If one or more of the muscles is weakened or underdeveloped, vision problems may occur. A common condition that often occurs due to weakened eye muscles is strabismus, often identified as cross-eyed.
Strabismus is a visual condition where the eyes do not look in the same direction at the same time. It is commonly diagnosed in children due to an underlying condition but may also occur later in life as a result of injury or physical disorder.
When your eye muscles work together, both eyes aim at the same spot, allowing the brain to take the images and form a single 3D image, giving us depth perception. If you have strabismus, two different images are sent to the brain leading to a loss of depth perception and visual confusion.
In young children, the brain may learn to ignore images from the misaligned eye. However, the condition will result in a loss of depth perception. If strabismus is developed later in life and you are diagnosed as an adult, double-vision is often developed as the brain has already learned to receive images from both eyes.
There are different types of strabismus and they are often described by the direction or alignment of the eyes.
- Esotropia – Refers to the inward turning of the eyes and is what most people associate when they imagine crossed eyes.
- Exotropia – Occurs when the eyes turn outward and are often called wall-eyed.
- Hypotropia – Used to describe vertical misalignment where the abnormal eye sits higher.
- Hypertropia – A vertical misalignment where the abnormal eye sits lower.
It is important to note that the misalignment can be consistent or come and go.
Symptoms & Diagnosis
The main sign of this condition is misaligned eyes. Children may squint one eye to see clearly or tilt their heads to use their eyes together. Adults often describe having double vision and headaches from straining their eyes to try to see clearly.
Strabismus needs to be treated as soon as possible, especially in children, as it may result in permanent vision impairment if left untreated.
Once suspected, visit an optometrist for a comprehensive eye exam and diagnosis. It can be caused by problems with eye muscles, the nerves that transmit information to the muscles and brain, or within the portion of the brain that controls eye movement.
Your treatment will vary depending on the severity and underlying cause of your condition. Most often treatment focuses on straightening the eyes and restoring binocular vision. Visual exercises can help to strengthen weakened muscles and corrective lenses can help to straighten the misalignment. Surgery can be considered if necessary, during which the unbalanced eye muscles may be removed to restore proper alignment and function to the eye.