Strabismus and Amblyopia | Diagnosis & Treatments

How is strabismus diagnosed?

Strabismus is diagnosed during an eye examination. Evaluation of the eyes and vision should be performed in the pediatrician's office at every well-child visit. But if your child is having symptoms of strabismus or other eye disorders at any age, a complete eye examination by an ophthalmologist should be performed.

What tests are used to diagnose strabismus?

There are a variety of tests that can help detect strabismus and associated amblyopia. Light reflex testing evaluates the alignment of the eyes by having your child look directly at a point of light. Another test uses prisms to analyze whether your child’s eyes are properly aligned. If your child is not yet able to talk, vision can be assessed by evaluating your child’s ability to fixate on a moving object or your child’s response when one of the eyes is covered. If your child is older, a standard eye chart with either letters or pictures will be used to test vision.

Your child’s doctor will also ask you about your family history and how and when your child’s strabismus appeared. To provide the most effective care, it is important to determine whether your child was born with strabismus or acquired it as the result of another health problem.

What are the treatment options for strabismus?

If strabismus is treated early, your child will have a better chance to use his or her eyes together to develop binocular vision and depth perception. It's also important to treat strabismus soon after diagnosis to avoid the onset of amblyopia, which can result in permanent vision loss.

Mild strabismus

  • Glasses: Your child's eye doctor may prescribe glasses to correct the alignment problem.
  • Patching: Sometimes your doctor may recommend placing a patch over the normally functioning eye for a number of hours every day. "Patching" can help remind the brain that it needs to pay attention to both eyes, which sometimes can improve the alignment.

Severe strabismus

  • Eye muscle surgery is typically needed to straighten the eyes and prevent vision loss when other interventions don't work.
  • The surgery involves detaching the muscle or muscles that is causing misalignment and reattaching it or them to a new spot.

Botox injections

Very few places in the New England region and in the country offer Botox (botulinum toxin A) injections as an option for treatment in children with strabismus. At Boston Children's Hospital, eye doctors can occasionally use Botox instead of eye muscle surgery to correct strabismus.

Sometimes, this method proves effective in children for whom surgery has not corrected the misalignment. For adults and older children, this treatment can be given in the office. For young children, the procedure is performed in the operating room with a brief anesthesia but without need for incisional muscle surgery.

Adjustable sutures in eye muscle surgery

Adjustable sutures allow our ophthalmologists to readjust the position of your child's eye in the recovery room to avoid the need to schedule additional surgery. It may be hard to believe that a child would sit still for the adjustment of adjustable sutures, but our surgical and anesthesia teams perform these adjustments routinely and know how to help a child stay calm and cooperative throughout the process.

If a child is too young or too fearful to cooperate for adjustment, the procedure can be completed with a brief secondary anesthetic in the recovery room without needing to return for surgery.

What is the long-term outlook for a child with strabismus?

It depends upon the underlying cause of your child’s strabismus, but what is true in all cases is that the sooner the condition is diagnosed, the more effective the treatment will be.