Strabismus is commonly referred to as being cross-eyed. The strabismus definition is a misalignment of the eyes. It is a condition in which one or both eyes is not aligned properly, which results in one or both eyes drifting to the left, right, up or down. This misalignment could be constant or could occur off and on.  It is often confused with amblyopia, or lazy eye.

What causes strabismus? 

Strabismus can be attributed to several different causes. It can be caused by unevenly distributed strength in the eye’s muscles. Each eye is controlled by six muscles, and if some are weaker than others the eye can be “pulled” off to one side. It can also originate in the nerves connecting the eye to the brain, or the portion of the brain itself that controls eye movement. Alternatively, it can be caused by eye injury or certain health conditions. For example, people who are significantly farsighted are far more likely to develop strabismus.  People with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or other neurological disorders are also more likely to develop this eye condition.

Strabismus symptoms

Symptoms include the following:

  • An eye (or eyes) that appear to drift off in directions other than straight ahead
  • Double vision

Strabismus treatment 

Depending upon the cause and severity, there are several treatment options available.

Eye glasses or contact lenses: For some patients, especially those whose misaligned eyes can be attributed to farsightedness, eyeglasses or contact lenses can correct strabismus.  These lenses can be prescribed by an eye doctor to correct the refractive error that causes the eyes to be misaligned.

Prism lenses: These are special lenses that allow the eye to turn less when interpreting images. This can relieve strain and some turning of the eyes by making it easier for the eyes to work together.

Eye exercises: If the misalignment of the eyes is caused by an uneven distribution of strength in the eye muscles, eye exercises can help to strengthen weak muscles and allow the eyes to properly align. An eye doctor can recommend the most effective exercises to strengthen the eye’s muscles.

Strabismus surgery: If the other options are not enough to correct the condition, surgery is an option to straighten out the eyes. Surgery is performed to alter the lengths of the eye muscles, in order to tighten or loosen their pull on the eye until it faces straight forward.  Those who undergo strabismus surgery often have to do eye exercises or wear corrective lenses to maintain the alignment of the eyes.

Strabismus can occur in adults or children and can be diagnosed with an eye exam from your eye care provider.