Strabismus: What to do if your child has it!

Some babies are born with strabismus. The problem, not strictly of an esthetic nature, often corrects itself but because this is not always the case, the child’s vision must be closely monitored in order to avoid compromising it long term.

Vision development:

Vision is the last of the five senses to develop in a fetus. The capacity of the fetus to process light begins as of the seventh month of pregnancy. At birth, vision is the sense that is the least stimulated.  It is only at the age of 4 months that a baby’s visual capacities most closely ressemble those of an adult.

Why do a baby’s eyes cross?

It is normal for a newborn’s eyes to cross, especially during the first 5 months, because  their eyes do not yet work in tandem. In fact, newborns cannot see with both eyes at the same time because this ability is only acquired between 3 and 5 months. Before both eyes are able to stare and move together, one eye may not appear symmetrical to the other, this is called having a lazy eye or strabismus.

A persistent deviation of either eye after 6 months requires an evaluation. A constant and sustained deviation of one eye gives the impression of seeing double, and the brain compensates by cancelling the image of the deviating eye. Just press gently on the outside corner of your eye to see how perfectly the eyes must be aligned to reconstruct an image.

Screening for strabismus

Strabismus is caused by a weakness of the eye muscles which is not uncommon, affecting 5% of children.  Its causes are many and can appear at birth or during early childhood. The sooner strabismus presents itself, the more important it is to have it screened. As it is not always obvious to determine whether a child is cross eyed, it is important for the doctor to include the eye examination as part of the routine series of exams performed during the first few months of life. 

When strabismus appears after the age of two, it is most often attributed to a difference in strength between one eye and the other. For example, if your child does not see well  from up close and one eye is more affected than the other, the affected eye can become lazy and will have a tendency to not focus on objects. 

Depending on the case, the recommendations to correct strabismus are: wearing an eye patch or corrective lenses, performing exercises to encourage both eyes to work together, undergoing a procedure to correct the positioning of the eyes. 

Risks associated with strabismus

When a child has strabismus, he is only looking with one eye because of a visual adaptation of the brain to avoid double vision. The other eye becomes  "lazy," no longer transmitting the signal necessary to reconstruction the image.  The signal does not reach the cerebral cortex, an area of the brain responsible for analyzing information from the eyes.

Strabismus can therefore have long-term repercussions if it is not treated in the first few years of life.

Consult your IRIS Optometrist if you have any doubt that your child has strabismus.  They will be able to do the necessary screening and recommend treatment that is right for your little one's eye health.