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A squint — also referred to as crossed eyes — is a medical condition in which the eyes are relatively misaligned and point in different directions.

fashion and trends Updated: Aug 22, 2010 00:57 IST
Dr Mahipal Singh Sachdev

A squint — also referred to as crossed eyes — is a medical condition in which the eyes are relatively misaligned and point in different directions. Over time, a squint can lead to problems such as lazy eye, poor depth perception (stereopsis), double vision, inadequate vision in one eye, abnormal head posture or a combination of any of these.

Cause
The exact cause is not known but a squint is most likely due to loss of coordination between the eye muscles. Certain neurological disorders like cerebral palsy, Down's syndrome and brain tumours can cause squints, as can ocular complications like cataract, injury, corneal opacity or retinal problems. In children, a high refractive error, mostly long sightedness, may cause an inward deviation of the eyes.

Early signs
When babies are born, their eyes are usually not aligned. By the age of 3-4 weeks, babies learn to align their eyes. If deviation of the eyes persists after a month, parents should consult an ophthalmologist.

Only an ophthalmologist can diagnose whether an apparent squint is caused by a squint or some other underlying problem, such as a broad nasal bridge (pseudosquint).

Children with a less noticeable squint will complain of unnatural sensitivity to light (photophobia), decreased vision or blink frequently. Adults may develop double vision.

Treatment and cost
Treatment involves aligning the eyes and restoring binocular vision. Since the ability to perceive depth develops early in childhood, it's best to treat squints as early as possible, preferably before the age of 3.

In a few cases, glasses alone can treat a squint. Surgery may be needed to weaken or strengthen the relevant muscles to restore the balance and coordination.

The cost of surgery varies between Rs 20,000 and Rs 40,000 per eye, depending on its complexity. In adults, it is done under local anesthesia and does not need hospitalisation. Children, however, are given general anesthesia and need to stay in the hospital for six hours after coming out of anesthesia. Squint surgery is reimbursable.

Dr Sachdev is the chairman and medical director, Centre for Sight, New Delhi.