One in twenty children in the US has some form of strabismus. Yet, people who are not eye care professionals may not know the term at all. So, instead, let’s go back to a more familiar term that’s often used instead- lazy eye. But what is “lazy eye” and what can be done to “fix” it?

This article covers important information about both strabismus that everyone needs to know.

So What Is “Lazy Eye”, Really?

“Lazy eye” is a colloquial term that is often used to describe an eye that turns. This turn can be inward or outward, but, in rare cases, the eye will turn up or down. On occasion, the term “lazy eye” also describes an eye that doesn’t see as well as the other. In essence, “lazy eye” is used to describe both strabismus and amblyopia

Strabismus at a Glance

What is Strabismus: Strabismus is essentially misalignment of the eyes or an eye turn of one or both eyes. Strabismus is also described as an eye turn of one or both eyes. The eyes might turn in, giving the child the appearance of being crosseyed, outward, or up or down. The eye turn can manifest at any age and any eye turn that comes on suddenly or gets drastically worse over a short period of time should prompt a visit to the eye doctor as soon as possible.

What Causes Strabismus: Our eyes rely on six extraocular muscles, three cranial nerves, and a complex set of pathways within our brain. A malfunction in any of these elements can cause an eye turn. Here are a few risk factors for developing strabismus:

Genetics: Children who have siblings with an eye turn are at a greater risk of developing strabismus.

Uncorrected Refractive Error: Children with certain uncorrected refractive errors are at greater risk of developing an eye turn.

Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions can increase the likelihood of strabismus. A sudden eye turn in adults should be investigated immediately because it could be the first sign of a neurological disorder.

How is Strabismus Diagnosed

The best way to diagnose strabismus is through an annual eye exam. However, parents are likely to be the first to notice an eye turn. If your, or your child’s, eye turn seems to come and go, make sure to mention this to your optometrist.

How is Strabismus Treated?

The treatment for strabismus depends on the underlying cause. For instance, if the cause is an uncorrected refractive error, your eye doctor may recommend glasses for full-time wear. In other cases, your eye doctor might recommend patching, vision therapy, or even surgery to help reduce the eye turn.

Why Is Strabismus Problematic?

When a child develops strabismus at a young age, their visual development is disrupted. The brain will reject the image that it receives from the turned eye and will instead focus on the “correct eye”, and the turned eye is at risk of becoming amblyopic. If both eyes are turning at the same time, the brain will have a harder time finding a “good” image.

If both eyes are turning, but not at the same time, amblyopia is less of a risk because each eye has practice, however, the eyes’ ability to work together may still be affected.

With a better understanding of strabismus, patients, eye care providers, and even other health care providers can work together to help ensure that amblyopia is caught early and treated successfully.

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