Vision health plays an important role in childhood development. A common vision problem to be aware of is strabismus, or cross eyes. Physician in-chief at Renown Children’s Hospital and Chair of Pediatrics at UNR MED, Dr. Max J. Coppes, explains what this looks like and when to seek treatment.
What causes cross eyes?
Strabismus, is a medical term describing crossing of the eyes. Specifically this is caused when a person cannot control their eye movement. It occurs in about four percent of the US population. When looking at an object, normally both eyes align so that they simultaneously focus on an object. This results in binocular vision, when the brain gets two identical pictures of the same object. These imagines combine into one three-dimensional image giving us depth perception.
When both eyes do not line up, the brain receives two different pictures of the same object. In adults this results in double vision. However, in young children, the brain learns to ignore the picture of the cross eye, only seeing the picture of the straight eye.
Healthy childhood vision depends on normal alignment.
In most instances, misaligned vision is caused by a problem in the brain’s vision control center.
In adults who previously had perfect vision, cross eyes or double vision can occur after:
- A stroke
- Head trauma
- Systemic illness such as thyroid issues
In most healthy children, the cause for the flaw of the vision control center is unknown. While it may run in certain families, most children with cross eyes have no relatives with the same problem. Cross eyes may come and go or be consistent.
In children, the brain pays attention to the images of the straight eye, ignoring the ones from the cross eye. If this occurs regularly, the misaligned eye may fail to develop normal vision.
All children should have their vision checked by a pediatrician or family physician around three years old, or sooner if you notice crossing of the eyes.
When is medical attention necessary for cross eyes?
A child who fails a vision screen or has crossed eyes should be seen by a pediatric ophthalmologist for a complete eye exam. The earlier a child with eye crossing receives treatment, the better the outcome. The most common treatment aims at training the misaligned eye by patching the other eye.
Eye surgery is often required to realign the eye. This needs to be carefully managed and followed by a trained specialist. A pediatric ophthalmologist has special training to focus on children’s eye problems. They learn to manage eye disorders of newborns and children.