Saturday, April 13, 2024

Squint eyes: Causes, symptoms and how to help your child regain normal sight

Irene Kiragu, a mother of one, first noticed that her two-year-old daughter could look at her while her head faced a different side. “Her head could be facing sideways, and yet one of her eyes could react to my movements,” she says.

“She could also look at me with her left eye closed.” Alarmed, Irene began to observe her daughter’s eye movements. Astonishingly, Tamia’s left eye often looked outwards towards the corner of the eye. “I took her to an eye clinic in our area Catholic Church where she was examined and found to be with a divergent eye squint,” says the 28-year-old public relations officer.

According to eye specialist, Evans Oduor, squint eyes are a result of misalignment of the eyes and are caused by difficulty in focusing. “The child’s eyes do not appear to look at the same direction due to refractive problems such as long sightedness.”

In some cases, this misalignment may remain put and persistent throughout the child’s life. In most cases, one eye remains the dominant focusing eye – the one that sees – while the other squinted eye does not focus and its impulses and focus are ignored by the brain.

While Tamia’s squint may have been detected early, many children survive with the problem because their parents believe that it squint is a natural deformity that they can do nothing about.

“I had noticed that my son had a squint. But it never greatly bothered me. I didn’t think it could grievously affect his life. He didn’t have many problems with reading or carrying out school and household activities,” says Charity Muraya, 33, of his squinted sixteen-year-old son.

Consequently, the child may become a victim of ridicule and abuse. Take six-year-old Isaac Okumu for instance. “He often got into fights with his classmates and some friends,” says his mother Gladys Awino.

“At first, I thought he was just acting bullish and consequently tried to put him in line. But it never seemed to stop. One day, he came home, crying, and said that he was tired of his friends who couldn’t stop taunting him and calling him chongo!” Isaac’s self confidence in school and home has plummeted.

Today, he is convinced that something is wrong with him. “He believes that he is not normal, has become withdrawn and no longer goes out to play with his friends. Going to school has also become a problem and his grades have dropped acutely,” says Gladys, 32.

To help her child, Gladys recently bought him a pair of glasses to conceal the squint eyes and help him focus. “I have been thinking that it is a normal kind of deformity, whose effects can be reduced by wearing glasses.”

But according to Evans, squints cannot be simply corrected by wearing glasses alone. Moreover, squints present the high possibility of becoming permanent if not well treated.

Causes and Symptoms

Squints are common and usually affect at least one in every twenty children. Usually they develop within the first three years of the child’s life. Often, though, the child is born with the squint, although the condition may also develop within the first six months.

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“You should not be too worried if your child seems to have a squint within the first two months. However, if the squint goes beyond this, then it is wise that you have the baby checked,” observes Evans, adding that the most common symptom that you should be on the look out for is the failure by one eye to focus straight.

“Such refractive errors may occur in one or both eyes. This effectively interferes with the early brain development of the binocular vision.” As a result, because the eyes cannot focus correctly together, the brain fails to learn how to use both eyes to focus together on an object.

“For example, if the left eye is dominant the brain will suppress the image from the right eye and weaken its control and focus,” says Evans.

However, some squints are hereditary. For instance, if you have a family history with squints, chances of your child developing one are high.  Children with cerebral palsy, Noonan Syndrome, brain tumor and hydrocephalus are also vulnerable to squints. “Children with neuro-developmental delay and motor control difficulties are at an increased risk of squints.”

Other symptoms may include poor vision, or blurred or double vision in the affected eye, which the child may try to deal with by spontaneously covering or closing the affected eye. Alarmingly, a squint may cause the child a lazy eye – also known as amblyopia – which if not treated before the child reaches age 7, may cause permanent visual impairment.

“Squints are the most common cause of amblyopia. This effect occurs with the failure by the child to use one eye early on in childhood,” says Evans.

Diagnosis and Treatment

With squints, the younger and faster the child is treated, the more improved her eyesight will be. Notably, while certain squints are obvious, others may be difficult to detect, and only become manifest at later, more detrimental stages. Usually, possible squints are detected by shining a light on the eyes from a distance.

In such tests, the reflection of the light should constantly appear in the same position in both eyes. But there are other tests that may be administered as six-year-old Suleiman Kazembe’s squint was diagnosed.

“The doctor asked him to look at bottle of soda in front of him. He covered the right eye, which was fixing the image correctly, then watched how the left eye behaved,” explains his mother, Mariam Kazembe. Apparently, the eye moved in an effort to find and fix the bottle.

Optician Evans further notes that if the squint is detected early, proper treatment may help the brain to develop binocular vision. In some cases, the normal eye may have to be patched in order to compel the brain to use the affected eye. “An operation may also be necessary to tighten the muscles around the eye.”

Some of the Places where you can find Help

  • Kikuyu Eye Hospital
  • Kenyatta National Hospital
  • All District Hospitals at Level Five and above.
  • Upper Hill Eye and Laser Centre
  • Lions SightFirst Eye Hospital Countrywide

Types of Squint

  • Convergent squint – the abnormal eye gazes inwards
  • Divergent squint – the affected eye looks outwards towards the corner of the eye
  • Vertical squint – the eye gazes up or down (although this is rare)

Whom to Consult:

If you suspect that your child has a squint problem, you may consult the following for guidance and proper diagnosis and treatment.

  • pediatrician
  • an orthoptist
  • an ophthalmologist (eye surgeon).

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