Babies: Strabismus, Cross-eyes – When is it a Problem?

Lately I have been noticing that Gareth seems to have cross-eyes (strabismus) quite often.  Sometimes both eyeballs will wonder on their own as if they are each looking at different things.  Although Gavin, too, had cross-eyes when he was a baby, I don’t recall it ever being that bad and I certainly don’t remember both eyeballs looking at different things.  I don’t remember exactly when Gavin stopped having cross-eyes because it wasn’t particularly obvious with him, but it did eventually correct itself.

One evening, while we were out, Gareth’s eyes kept getting crossed.  If they weren’t crossed, they would be wandering.  It got me a little worried so I looked up “strabimus in babies”.  Babies don’t see very well at birth because they are not able to focus their eyes.  They see blurred images but are able to make out outlines and recognise caregivers through a combination of senses.  It is common and normal for babies to appear cross-eyed at birth and for their eyes to wander – this normally corrects itself as baby learns to focus.

When is strabismus in babies a problem?

There appear to be two schools of thought on this.  Familydoctor.org states that strabismus in babies is normal, especially when babies are tired.  This might explain why I noticed Gareth’s eyes wandering a lot – it was evening on the way home after a shopping trip to The Gardens.  The other school of thought, which is from “Eye exercises for good vision” states that babies don’t have strabismus, rather they have a temporary condition called “pseudostrabismus” where it appears as if they have strabismus because of their broad nose bridge and extra eye folds.

Regardless of which school of thought you follow, the common consensus is that this is a normal occurrence and it usually corrects itself by about three months.  If the problem continues beyond three months and certainly after six months, you should take your child to see an ophthalmologist.  Recognising this problem early on allows immediate intervention to correct the problem and prevent it from progressing.  Even if your child does not appear to have an eye problem, it is still advisable to book an appointment with the ophthalmologist at six months for a check-up since young children can’t really tell you they have a problem with their eyes.  Looks like I ought to take Gavin for a check-up, too.

How to determine when your child has a problem with his vision?

  • persistence of strabismus (cross-eyes, wandering eyes) beyond 3-6 months
  • difficulty seeing
  • drifting eyes
  • often rubbing eyes
  • tilting the head at an awkward angle

You can also shine a light into your child’s eyes and check if a reflection can be seen on the front surfaces of the corneas.  Properly aligned eyes will have a light reflection in the same location in both eyes – at the center of the pupil.  If the reflection is in a different location in each eye, it is suggestive of an eye problem.  You may even notice the problem from flash photos where there is an abnormal light reflection in the eyes.

What happens if your baby has persistent strabismus?

If the problem persists, it is possible that your child has a condition called “lazy eye” – where one eye is unable to see as clearly as the other eye.  As a result, the brain relies more heavily on the good eye further weakening the weaker eye because it is not in use.  If the problem is detected early, treatment can be provided to exercise the weaker eye.  An eye patch or eye drops can be place over or in the good eye so that the brain is forced to use the images from the weak eye therefore forcing it to work.  Alternatively, corrective lenses can be used.  In more extreme cases, an operation may be necessary to straighten the eyes.

One of the reasons why I have been concerned about strabismus in Gareth is because hubby has “lazy eye” and so does my brother.  With genes for eye problems running in both sides of the family, I suspect both Gavin and Gareth may be susceptible to it.  For the time being, however, it looks like we can breathe a little easier.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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