I have another set of entries outside of the Science and Splash that I would like to share. I affectionately call it “Diary of a Strabismic Kid.” As a developmental optometrist that works with Strabismus (eye turns), I get a glimpse into the world of what it is like to have a turned eye or lazy eye. I have learned so much from these patients over the last few months that I would like to share what I am learning with all of you.
Most of us only see what can be seen on the outside. In many cases, it is very easy to see when someone’s eye is turning. This can be very devastating to a strabismic person. More than most of us realize.
One of my patients was a 15 year old named Tyler who had had 3 eye surgeries to correct his eye turn. When he came to me he was contemplating going in for a fourth eye surgery. I prescribed vision therapy to address the eye turn. I remember working with him one day in the therapy room. We were doing this technique using 3D glasses like they use in today’s movie theaters. We were asking him to watch himself in the mirror to see if he could get both eyes to point straight. All of the sudden he got it and his eyes were pointing straight and he said it felt “really wierd.” I told him that was great and to remember what that feeling was like. After the vision therapy session, I was talking to his mother about the gains we had made in therapy that day and I looked over at Tyler who was very intensely pointing both of his straight at me. I said, “Tyler your eyes are straight!” With a very direct tone of voice he replied, “I know.”
This presents a common misconception about eye turns. Well, if you have an eye turn, why don’t you just get surgery to straighten it. The truth is that it is very difficult for eye alignment to last with eye surgery, because the underlying cause of the eye turn was never treated. So even if the eyes are surgically aligned, these patients don’t know how to use the two eyes together. Unfortunately, these patients are rarely sent to learn how to use their eyes in tandem. By simply hoping for the best, a disconcerting 50% of the time these patients need multiple surgeries because the individual goes back to what he or she knows – turn the eye. This is never a conscious decision.
With Tyler I remember the first time I examined him, I asked him if he knew where the other eye was turning. He said he didn’t. There were times when the eye was turned more and when it was turned less and I asked him if he could purposely make his eye turn more or less – again he told me he could not. You see, it is a very difficult thing for the brain to learn for the first time how to get the two eyes to point to the same place. How often do you think about where your eyes are pointing? But through the expertise and research of many years, developmental optometrists have many tools to teach people how to use the eyes together and in turn straighten them.
Tyler was a very bright and talented young man. He was a straight “A” student with a resolve to go places and do something with his life. Though he was a little reserved, I don’t think anyone really felt his eye turn was holding him back in anyway. Yet listen to what he wrote about his experience.
“Since I was a kid I have had a lazy eye. Over the years, I was ridiculed and made fun of daily. People would tell me to “look at them” or ask “What are you looking at?” and then laugh at me. My self-esteem and confidence started to dwindle. I had a great sense of inferiority. I had three cosmetic surgeries in Seattle to fix the alignment of my eyes but sometimes one eye still “looks” off. Over time, I developed defense mechanisms to try to hide my eye. I would not look directly at someone, but slightly off to the side so they wouldn’t notice my eyes.Vision Therapy has helped me get more control of my eye alignment and make better use of my right eye, which used to turn off. Each time I go to therapy, I feel as if I’m making my eyes better. I don’t just notice physical changes either, but visual perception and personality changes too. I am more positive about myself. My self-esteem and confidence has given me a better feeling of doing well in sports and I am more comfortable socializing with peers. My Optometrist/Vision Therapist, Dr. Winters, and the therapy program have given me a better outlook on life and myself. I no longer need my defense mechanisms because of what Vision Therapy is doing for me.”
This gives us a glimpse into what life is like for those who have eye turns. But, unfortunately, it is only part of the story. People who do not have good alignment of the eyes are almost always stereo blind. Stereo blind is the term used for individuals that have not developed stereopsis or depth perception. Tune in next time to hear more about the far-reaching impact stereo blindness can have on an individual.
If you or someone you know struggles with strabismus, a lazy eye, or an eye turn, contact your local developmental optometrist. To find one near you click here.