This is me. Yes, I was an adorable child. This is probably my very favorite childhood picture. I was happy and energetic. I was a little bit of an imp, and I prided myself in that. I was pretty much a healthy child, but I was born with a condition called Strabismus (“struh-BIZ-mus”).
WebMD.com describes Strabismus as a vision problem in which both eyes do not look at the same point at the same time. Basically, strabismus is an eye condition that makes the eye muscles not work together, which causes double vision. Strabismus is most often diagnosed during early childhood and it is thought to be genetic.
This is not a condition that is outgrown or goes away. Without focused treatment, Strabismus can lead to vision problems later in life. Most people’s brains can offset minor deviations in their line of sight, but that is not the case for a person with Strabismus.
Personally, I classify those with Strabismus into two categories, those who can sometimes control the deviation and those that can’t. I was one of the people who could sometimes control it, but as time passed my brain was having a harder and harder time offsetting the deviation. People who can’t control this condition, and it is very noticeable, are sometimes called cross-eyed, or a floating eye. Some of the most common treatments are eye excercises, glasses, temporary eye patch or surgery.
Eye excercises can be done to help strengthen the weak eye and help the eyes work together (it is harder and more painful than it sounds).
Glasses can sometimes correct small deviations due to the prism characteristics in glass lenses.
A temporary eye patch may be used in younger patients. The patch is placed on the stronger eye, which may cause the weaker eye to strengthen. This will hopefully result in the eyes more easily aligning together. And when none of these methods are successful, surgery may be needed.
I was not diagnosed with this condition until I was a sophomore in high school. Strabismus is usually seen as a childhood condition, but sometimes it can go misdiagnosed for years. That was my case. It had been misdiagnosed as a baby and I had learned ways to adapt. But as I got older, my brain wasn’t able to adapt any longer.
All of my life, I had this weird tilt of my head when I was concentrating. I later found out that for some reason, tilting my head just a little bit, sent my brain a signal for my eyes to work together harder. The tilt of my head helped my eyes work together but it came at a price, teasing by classmates.
As I got older and more involved in athletics and homework started getting more intense, I guess my brain couldn’t handle it anymore and I started seeing double. I knew something was different but I didn’t know what was going on. It’s hard to explain, but in the beginning I didn’t even realize I had double vision. It was around the end of ninth grade that I told my parents what was going on, but they didn’t know what it was either.
My parents finally took me to an eye doctor, and they gave me the test that seems to be standard in every vision test. The doctor asked me to pick out which dot stands out. I didn’t know what she was talking about. I told her that there were no dots sticking out. That was the first moment that I was diagnosed with strabismus.
During my sophomore year in high school we found specialists in the field of Strabismus, in Lake Oswego, Oregon and they started seeing me. I was too old for them to use the patch on my strong eye. The exercises (which surprisingly hurt) did little to help me, but I was diligent and worked on them for over a year. I had prisms placed in glasses that helped slightly, but the glasses were old, and being an awkward high schooler, I was horribly embarrassed.
So after a year of trying everything possible, we scheduled surgery on my right eye during the summer after my Junior year. I had to be fully put under with anesthesia because the surgery was being done on my eye muscles and there could be no eye muscle movement at all, for obvious reasons. When I got out of surgery, I was in horrible pain and could not open either eye. Think about it, just try and open one eye without using the muscles of the other eye. It’s just not possible.
After a few days, I went to my doctor for a follow-up. The surgery didn’t work. What had happened is that they had over-compensated for my deviation. So now, my double vision was worse because the picture I was used to seeing was inverted and no tilting of my head would compensate. It was horrible. With the pain I went through, there was no way I ever wanted to go through surgery again. So, I had nicer glasses made with extremely thick prisms and had to learn to adapt quickly to my new vision. For basketball, I had goggles made (yes, I had to wear goggles my senior year in high school).
A few years later (with the pain of the surgery a distant memory), I attempted the surgery again, the summer after my Junior year in college. This time the surgery was done on my left eye and two doctors performed the surgery. The second surgery was the charm. My vision wasn’t and isn’t perfect, but it is drastically improved from before even my first surgery. My depth perception will never be perfect but it’s much better.
Strabismus is a condition that affects many people, and it is something that is extremely personal to me. While it might be funny to some people to see someone cross-eyed, it is something that is horribly painful to grow up with and learn to deal with. I was lucky. My eye deviation never made me look like I was cross-eyed, and when I had those moments where I couldn’t control the deviation, I compensated by looking down a lot.
As a parent, I am now very aware of the signs to look out for. Since this is a genetic condition, I watch as my son grows, hoping and praying this isn’t one of the struggles he will have to deal with in life.
What to look out for?
- If both eyes don’t follow an object together
- Rubbing the eye or both eyes
- Squinting to see an object
- Covering one eye to see more clearly
- Tilting of the head while concentrating on an object
- For older children, eyes are unable to seamlessly go from one line reading to the next
There may be many reasons for the above behaviors, but the one thing to remember is have your child’s vision checked. With young children, they can adapt easily to the eye that isn’t following and can actually start to ignore the picture. This can cause the eye to become even weaker.
So, if you see any of these signs, please take your child to see the eye doctor. If caught early this really can be a simple fix. If it continues into adulthood, which it did for me, it is more difficult to fix physically and mentally.
Today, I wear contacts and sometimes glasses, but not for double vision, but for poor vision. I really enjoy reading, but know I sometimes have to adapt and focus more than the average person. I do notice the slight deviation once in a while, but overall life is normal and I am thankful for my two surgeons at Child Eye Care Associates.