My child seems to be cross-eyed
Elyssa Peters, MD, is a board-certified ophthalmologist practicing at Banner Estrella Medical Center.
Question: My child seems to be crossed eyed. Is there anything that can be done to correct it?
Answer: If you are noticing any crossed eyes, regardless of your child’s age, it is important to see an ophthalmologist as soon as possible. A person’s vision system develops during the first five to seven years of life and, if the vision center in the brain does not learn how to use the two eyes together early in life, the problem will follow your child into their adult life.
The medical term for crossed eyes is esotropia. Esotropia can be broken into three different categories: eye crossing when focusing; eye crossing that is unrelated to focusing effort; and, eye crossing that is somewhat dependent on focusing. The eye crossing due to focusing effort happens because most children with esotropia are farsighted and must exert more effort to see the world clearly. This directed focusing effort causes an inward eye movement that is too large and thus, the child’s eyes cross. The type of eye crossing unrelated to focusing effort may be congenital, or from birth.
There are two treatment options for esotropia—glasses and surgery. Glasses, which help the child to focus, may correct the esotropia simply by allowing the child’s eyes to relax. If glasses straighten the eyes and allow them to work together, no further treatment should be needed.
If re-examination shows that the glasses are not working, your ophthalmologist will recommend surgery. Surgery is performed on an outpatient basis using a brief general anesthesia. The surgery entails the tightening or loosening of the appropriate eye muscles—every eye has six eye muscles which control movement—that will best restore proper eye alignment.
During surgery, an incision is made under the eyelid to reach the eye muscle. The eye muscle(s) is secured with a suture, detached from the eye and then reattached in a new predetermined location.
Typically, the surgery takes only 30 to 90 minutes. Afterwards, the child will make a speedy recovery—no patch or cover necessary—and generally will be back to regular activities within a day or two.