Disclaimer: This is not a substitute for an examination by a medical professional. It is, quite simply, one mom’s experience with a strabismus diagnosis. I write this with the hope that other parents might be helped by this account of a very common issue.
Around this time last year, we started to notice that one of our son’s eyes was turning inward. For the first few weeks, we believed he was doing it to be funny. But then we noticed that it was happening when he was trying to focus or when he was tired. From my research and speaking with my son’s doctors, this is pretty common. Often, you will also hear the term “accomodative esotropia” – in plain English, that means the misalignment of one eye to make up for farsightedness.
We made an appointment with our family optometrist, who then referred us to a pediatric opthamologist.
Over the past year, we’ve been on a bit of a roller coaster with his care (Three doctors! Regular glasses! Bifocals! Patching! Drops! Surgery!). Here is what I wish we had known, followed by our experience with corrective surgery.
What I Wish We’d Known
Make sure you’re covered if it’s possible for your family. We did not have vision coverage for our son at the time. We simply did not think to add an infant, and after paying some out of pocket costs, we sure wish we had!
There are more serious conditions that can cause strabismus, but they are very rare. After we visited our family optometrist, these conditions were mentioned to me and I panicked. They’re not common–but if you notice an inward turning of one or both eyes, get it checked! I wish I had known enough not to have a breakdown in the car after our first appointment.
If possible, go to an ophthalmologist first. As someone who has good vision, I admittedly had no idea of the difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist. Ultimately, if you need surgery you will need to be seen by the latter. However, in our case, an optometrist was able to get us in more quickly and refer us to a specialist.
Be prepared to wait. All of the pediatric ophthalmologists in our area book at least 1-3 months out in our experience. When we were referred, we had to wait weeks and weeks before seeing our specialist. If it eases your mind a bit, a family optometrist can probably see you in the meantime, but know that they will likely refer you anyway.
And wait some more. In general, appointments will require a couple of hours, especially if eye dilation is involved. Bring snacks and an activity.
You may need surgery, but you might be advised try other things first. For us, corrective lenses were the first course of action. Eventually we changed over to bifocals to ensure proper eye alignment no matter the distance. We also incorporated patching on the stronger eye, which caused the weaker eye (termed amblyopia) to work harder. For us, patching is every night, for two hours. Sometimes a drop that temporarily blurs vision in one eye is used instead. Eventually it was determined that while these things were helpful, they were not likely to solve our son’s issue, so we scheduled surgery.
Glasses are super cute these days! Our son has two pairs of Miraflex glasses, which we love. They come in a variety of flexible plastic colors and styles with no metal parts. We. Love. Miraflex. It was fun for our son to pick out the colors he liked, too–and it made him feel like part of the process.
You may be surprised how easily a child takes to glasses and patching. Our son is strong-willed, but after about a week he wore both the glasses and the patch with no resistance. Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars made a great incentive!
Every reaction we’ve had to the glasses has been positive. A toddler in glasses is not unheard of, but it is distinctive enough to notice. Luckily, kids and adults alike are full of compliments and even like to compare their glasses with our little guy.
After about a year of treatment with glasses, nightly patching and regular checkups, our ophthalmologist recommended that we move forward with corrective surgery on both eyes, since it’s common to develop a turning of the other eye later. The surgery itself was nerve-wracking to think about, but the day of the procedure went rather quickly. It corrects the eye alignment by detaching an eye muscle and reattaching it at a different place on the eye. It is not a vision correction surgery, though it can help with things like improved depth perception. Some patients need several surgeries to correct alignment.
As I write this, we are about halfway through the recovery phase which is two weeks for us. It includes medicated drops 4xs daily as well as restrictions on playing in dirt or sand as well as getting water in the eye. This is all very challenging for a little boy who is normally outside digging in the dirt or hiking, but he’s handling it well.
I hope this post helps someone out there recognize the condition or ease any fears he or she may have!
If you believe your child may have any of the issues described above, make an appointment with a doctor. For information, please consult this site from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital: https://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/service/o/ophthalmology.