What is strabismus?

Strabismus occurs when the eyes do not look in the same direction due to weak or misaligned eye muscles. One eye can wander or move independently.

At UW Health, our pediatric eye team provides careful consultation and medical and surgical management of strabismus. We want to create the best vision possible for your child.

Types and risk factors

Types and causes of strabismus

Children with strabismus have one eye that wanders or looks crossed. They often squint to see better.

Strabismus occurs for two reasons. In some cases, the eye muscles might not move together. In other cases, your child’s brain might not combine images from each eye into one clean picture. Both reasons make it difficult for your child to see.

Types of pediatric strabismus

One eye may wander in, out, up or down relative to the other eye. This is noticeable at birth or in early infancy.

The eyes turn in toward each other as they try to focus on blurry images. If excessive, this causes an uncontrolled crossing of one eye.

One eye drifts outward. You might only notice this when your child is tired or doesn’t feel well. Your child may also close one eye or squint, especially in the bright sun.

Untreated strabismus can cause serious vision loss in one eye. When the eyes do not align, the brain sees two images at the same time. The brain must choose one image to pay attention to. When the brain ignores the image from the other eye, that eye loses vision. This is called amblyopia.

Strabismus can run in families. If you have a family history of eye misalignment, take your child for an eye exam, even without symptoms.

Strabismus also occurs in adults. The condition happens suddenly. Neurological disease, trauma or underlying medical conditions cause adult strabismus.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Recognizing strabismus symptoms

As a parent, you will likely notice the signs of strabismus. Your child might complain about vision problems, too. Strabismus symptoms include:

  • Crossing or wandering of one eye

  • Difficulty seeing far or near

  • Double vision

  • Eyes that do not move together

  • Poor vision in one eye

  • Visible misalignment of one eye during visual tasks

Diagnosing strabismus

To make a diagnosis, our eye specialists will meet with you and your child, and:

  • Ask about your family medical history

  • Complete a thorough eye exam

  • Dilate your child’s eyes to check for eye disease

  • Order more tests as needed

Treatments and research

Our approach to strabismus care

Your child’s eye care team creates a plan to give your child the best vision possible.

Our eye specialists provide strabismus treatments to align the eyes so your child can see more clearly. Treatment options include:

  • Eye exercises

  • Glasses 

  • Patching one eye

  • Prism lenses

  • Surgery

We only consider surgery when other treatments do not bring the desired results. During strabismus surgery, the eye surgeon changes the length and position of the eye muscles.

Meet our team

Your eye movement care team

Our UW Health Kids strabismus team includes experts in ophthalmology and eye muscle conditions.

Our providers


Visit our strabismus care location

We offer specialized care for strabismus at UW Health clinics in Madison, Wisconsin.