Squint 

Introduction 

Childhood squint

A paediatric consultant explains the causes of squints, a misalignment of the eye. He describes how to identify the symptoms and the treatment options.

Media last reviewed: 09/09/2013

Next review due: 09/09/2015

How the eyes work

Light enters the eye through the cornea and lens. The cornea is a transparent layer that covers the front of the eye. The lens is suspended within the middle of the eye.

The light passes to the retina, which is a layer of light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. The retina converts the light into electrical signals.

The optic nerve at the back of the eye transmits the electrical signals to the brain, where they are converted into an image.

Each eye works independently of the other, creating its own, slightly different image. However, you only see one image because the brain controls the eye muscles so that both eyes point at the object you are looking at. The brain joins the images produced by each eye together into a single image.

A squint is a condition where the eyes point in different directions.

One eye may turn inwards, outwards, upwards or downwards while the other eye looks forward. The medical name for a squint is strabismus.

Squints can also cause:

  • blurred vision
  • double vision
  • lazy eye (amblyopia) – when the brain starts to ignore signals coming from the eye with the squint

Read more about symptoms of a squint.

When to see a doctor

Squints are common and affect about 1 in 20 children. They usually develop before a child is five years of age, but can appear later.

Up to around three months of age, many babies occasionally squint as their vision develops. This is normal and nothing to worry about.

If your child still has a squint after this age, you should see your GP. Your GP may refer you to a specialist called an orthoptist for some tests.

Many squints are detected during routine eye checks carried out at certain stages in your child's development.

Read more about diagnosing squints.

Why do squints happen?

It is not always apparent what causes a squint.

Some babies are born with a squint (called a congenital squint) and some develop it later (acquired squint).

Acquired squints are often caused by the eye attempting to overcome a vision problem, such as short-sightedness or long-sightedness.  

Read more about the causes of squint.

How are squints treated?

Most squints need to be treated as soon as possible to improve the chances of successful treatment.

Common treatments include glasses and eye exercises. If your child has a lazy eye, they may need to wear an eye patch to improve the vision in the affected eye.

If these treatments aren't successful, corrective surgery will most likely be required. This involves moving the muscles that control the movement of the eye.

Risks from surgery are rare, although sometimes more than one operation will be needed.

Occasionally, squints corrected during childhood reappear in adulthood. You should visit your GP as soon as possible if you develop a new squint.

Read more about how squints are treated

Recovering from surgery

It can take several weeks to fully recover from corrective squint surgery.

During this time, the eye may feel painful or itchy for a short time and you may have temporary double vision.

Page last reviewed: 31/01/2013

Next review due: 31/01/2015

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