What is it? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What is squint?

A squint (also known as strabismus) is the term for the condition when the eyes look in different directions. It may affect one or both eyes and one may be looking forward and the other turned in, out, up or down. It's caused by a weakness in the muscles in the eye.

Newborns are often born with squints, and it's quite normal for the eyes to drift in the first three months of life. They're also common in children, affecting 5% of under-fives. They can occur in older children, but this is unusual.

Children who squint sometimes have double vision, blurry vision or a lazy eye, where the squinting eye works less hard than the other one.

Squints are usually congenital (inherited) or refractive, which means they're caused by the eye's inability to process the light that passes through the lens. Sometimes, a squint can result from a common childhood illness or can be a symptom of some other condition, including hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain). In some cases, the squint is constant, but in others it's intermittent.

Sometimes a squint from childhood can come back in adulthood despite having been treated at the time, although this is fairly rare. Squints in adults cause double vision, and need referring to an ophthalmologist (eye specialist).

If your child or baby over the age of three months has a squint, you should consult your doctor without delay, as the earlier the condition is treated, the better the outcome. Untreated squints can also lead to problems with developing vision.

What are the symptoms of Squint?

Symptoms of a squint are one eye looking up, down, in or out while the other one looks forward. Sometimes the problem is quite obvious, but sometimes it's harder to spot.

If your child turns their head to one side or covers or closes one eye to focus on something, it might be because she has a squint, although she may not realise she has a problem with her eyes.

What are the treatments and remedies of Squint?

There are various treatments for a squint, including wearing a patch over one eye to encourage the muscles in the affected eye to become stronger, wearing corrective glasses for short or long sight or astigmatism; practising eye exercises, or in some cases, surgery.

Botulinum toxin injections may also be given. These work for about three months, and this might be long enough to keep the eyes realigned for good; otherwise further treatment will be needed. It's usually effective in babies under a year old and in cases where the squint is caused by a nerve problem. The injections are usually given under mild sedation.

If none of the non-surgical treatments correct a squint, surgery might be needed. During the operation, the muscles attached to the outside of the eye are moved to a new position. It's a simple procedure performed under general anaesthetic as a day case.

This guide 

The information in this Bounty A-Z of Family Health is not a substitute for an examination, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, midwife, health visitor or any other qualified health professional. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor.

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Further help

For health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the NHS offers call and web services. You can also visit NHS websites for services, health information and health news at nhs.uk 

  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net