It is usually spotted in childhood, sometimes within weeks of a baby being born, and affects 5-8% of children (1-2 in every 30).
The most common symptom of a squint is one of the eyes not looking straight ahead. In new-born babies it is quite normal for their eyes to ‘cross’ occasionally, particularly if they are tired. However, if you notice that this happens to your child beyond three months of age, it is advisable to talk to your GP. Your child may also look at you with one eye closed, or with their head turned to one side. These may be clues that they are experiencing double vision, and could be a sign that they have a squint.
There are different types of squint, and the cause is not always known. A baby can have a congenital squint (born with the condition), particularly if it runs in the family. The squint can occur due to muscle or nerve problems in the eye, as a result of a
childhood illness such as measles or chickenpox, or sometimes as a result of being long sighted (difficulty seeing close-up objects). When a child is very long sighted, their eyes will attempt to focus so much that double vision occurs. This can have a knock-on effect, causing one eye to turn away to avoid using it.
A squint is a condition that should be treated as soon as possible after it’s detected. Treatment is most effective in very young children. A squint will not disappear as the child gets older, and in fact the sight in the affected eye will gradually get worse. There are several types of treatment available:
If your child is long sighted, glasses may be prescribed which can often correct the long sight and the squint Alternatively, a patch may need to be worn over the good eye, to encourage the eye with the squint to work harder and become trained to work properly.
In some cases, the squint can be treated with special eye drops, or with eye exercises.
If none of these treatments help, then surgery may be required. Surgery for a squint involves moving the muscles attached to the outside of the eye to a new position. It may sometimes be necessary to operate on both eyes in order to ‘balance’ them effectively, even if the squint is only in one eye. There is no chance of the child’s eyesight being damaged by this operation, as the surgery does not touch the focussing part of the eye. When your child has returned home, they will need to use eye drops for
a short time. The nurse will show you how to do this before you leave the
A complication that can develop if a squint is untreated is amblyopia. Vision in the affected eye gradually gets worse because the brain starts to ignore the weaker message being sent from that eye. Once this has occurred, it is not possible to correct the damage, which is why it is so important that any squint is treated.