About squints or strabismus

Children with a squint have eyes that seem to look in different directions. This is because the muscles in each eye don’t work together in a balanced way.

Some squints are caused by long-sightedness. Rare causes of a squint can include a cataract in one eye or problems with the retina.

Squints affect about 3% of children. Squints are quite common in premature babies or babies who have low birth weight. Eye problems like squints also tend to run in families.

A squint is also known as strabismus or ‘turned eye’.

Symptoms of a squint or strabismus

In children with a squint, the affected eye might turn in towards the nose or outwards. Less commonly, the eye can turn upwards or downwards.

Newborn babies sometimes look like this from time to time, but this usually sorts itself out when they gain more muscle control, which is about six months. Older children don’t grow out of a squint.

Some squints are obvious in babies, and other squints show up later in childhood. They might come and go at first, and then become more constant over time.

In general, squints become more obvious when children:

  • are doing close activities like reading
  • are tired or unwell
  • have been outdoors.

Squints can also change depending on how much your child is concentrating.

A squint can lead to problems with vision, particularly in young children. For example, your child might see double or your child’s brain might ‘turn off’ one of his eyes to avoid double vision.  If your child’s eye turns off constantly, it can lead to a condition known as ‘lazy eye’.

Does your child need to see a doctor about a squint?

Yes. It’s really important that children over the age of six months with squints are seen by an eye specialist.

See your GP to get a referral to an ophthalmologist, or go to an optometrist.

Treatment for a squint

Squint treatment aims to give good vision in both eyes, as well as straightening the eyes. Early treatment leads to better outcomes.

Squint treatment depends on the cause of the squint.

Your child might need to wear glasses, particularly if her squint is caused by long-sightedness.

Your child might need surgery to weaken or strengthen the eye muscles.

Sometimes an eye patch can help older children who’ve recently developed a squint and are having trouble with double vision.

Your eye specialist might also work closely with an orthoptist to help manage your child’s squint.

If you had a squint or lazy eye as a child, or if one of your older children has one of these conditions, make sure your younger children have an eye test at about three years of age, even if they don’t have a squint. Most states and territories run free vision screening programs. Check with your child and family health nurse or preschool to see what’s offered in your area.