When to get medical advice
About two in every 100 children in the UK have a squint. In most children, there is no cause identified, but it can also be a sign of problems such as reduced eyesight (see below).
You should get advice if:
- your child has a squint all the time
- your child is older than three months and has a squint that comes and goes – in babies younger than this, squints that come and go are common and aren't usually a cause for concern
- you have any concerns about your child's vision – signs of a problem can include regularly turning their head to one side or keeping one eye closed when looking at things
- you develop a squint or double vision later in life
Treatments and surgery for a squint
Treatment is usually recommended to have a squint corrected, as it's unlikely to get better on its own and it could cause further problems if not treated.
The main treatments for a squint are:
- glasses – these can help if a squint is caused by a problem with your child's eyesight, such as long-sightedness
- eye exercises – special exercises for the muscles that control eye movement may sometimes help the eyes work together better
- surgery – this involves moving the muscles that control eye movement so the eyes line up correctly (it may be recommended if glasses aren't fully effective on their own)
- injections into the eye muscles – these weaken the eye muscles, which can help the eyes line up better but the effect usually lasts less than three months
If your child has a lazy eye as a result of their squint (read about possible further problems below), it may need to be treated first.
Treatment for a lazy eye usually involves wearing a patch over the unaffected eye to help improve vision in the affected eye.
Problems that can occur if a squint isn't treated
It's important not to ignore a squint that happens all the time or occurs after three months of age.
It could lead to further problems if left untreated, such as:
- persistent blurred or double vision
- a lazy eye – where the brain starts to ignore signals coming from the affected eye, so your child doesn't develop normal eyesight
- embarrassment or low self-esteem
Surgery can help improve the alignment of the eyes even if a squint has been left untreated for a long time, but any vision problems may be permanent if they're not treated at a young age.
Causes of squints
The exact cause of a squint isn't always known.
Some people are born with a squint and others develop one later in life. Sometimes they run in families.
In children, a squint is often caused by the eye attempting to overcome a vision problem, such as:
- short-sightedness – difficulty seeing things that are far away
- long-sightedness – difficulty seeing nearby objects
- astigmatism – where the front of the eye is unevenly curved, causing blurred vision
Rarer causes of a squint include:
- certain infections, such as measles
- some genetic conditions or syndromes, such as Down's syndrome
- developmental delays
- cerebral palsy
- other problems with the brain or nerves