When parents are expecting, the one thing they pray for is that their children aren't born with any defects or incurable conditions.
And for many parents, squint is included in that list of incurable defects because as far as they know, it's something they have to teach their children to live with but the good news is, childhood squint can be corrected.
"I see so many kids in the malls with squint eyes. I am itching to tell their mothers that this can be fixed! Please tell your relatives to take their children to the ophthalmologist. We fix these, and the children do well," says Dr Teboho Seobi, an ophthalmologist at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital.
Also see: Help! My child’s going under anesthesia and I don't know what to expect
What is squint?
Squint is a condition in which the eyes do not properly align with each other when looking at an object. The misalignment may be permanent for some people while it comes and goes for others.
The deviation of the eye may be in any direction - inward, outward, upward or downward.
Causes include :
- Injuries to the nerve that supplies the muscle of the eye so the muscle no longer works, resulting in the eye going squint
- Hereditary - other people in the family have/had it
- Congenital - one is merely born with it
- Natural corrective measure - the eye attempting to overcome a vision problem such as short-sightedness, long-sightedness or astigmatism
'Largely left untreated'
For many years, parents left the condition untreated and adults had never consulted doctors to find out if treatment is possible.
"Squint management has been developing over the years, but it has been fixable for many years. I think in our communities and social backgrounds, it has been largely left untreated for various reasons. Either because people thought it is hereditary and runs in the family thus believed it could not be treated. Other parents are just afraid of their children going for surgery" added Dr Teboho Seobi.
The type of treatment for the squint is dependant on the cause. Management options include treating the lazy eye, also known as amblyopic eye, prescribing spectacles, surgery or Botox injections.
But a patient may need one or two of the treatments depending on the cause.
You don't need to have medical aid to receive treatment
Surgery is only performed after the amblyopic eye has been treated and having excluded hyperopia and myopia as a possible cause. The operation is usually performed on an outpatient basis using general or local anaesthesia.
Patients may experience some pain or discomfort after surgery, but it is generally not severe and can be treated with over-the-counter pain medication such as panadol or paracetamol.
The good news about treatment is that it is accessible to everyone, even those that don't have access to private medical facilities.
Government hospitals offer squint management and treatment is available to babies as young as 6 months of age all the way up to adulthood. So it is never too late to treat squints.
"The team that would help treat a patient with a squint is an ophthalmologist, optometrist and an orthoptist, says Dr Seobi, explaining the treatment process.
"The ophthalmologist is responsible for checking the visual acuity of the child, examining the eyes to see if there are any problems with the eyes themselves. The optometrist will check if the patient is far-sighted or near-sighted, and the orthoptist would do the measurements of the eyes. We do assessments and measurement of the squint about 2-3 times 1-2 months apart. Some patients like adults only require two measurements."
Don't make assumptions
Medicine is constantly evolving, and we're getting to an era where a lot of conditions can be corrected.
Ultimately, it is crucial to find out from your doctor whether a condition in your child can be corrected before assuming it is non-corrective based on previous advice.
One of the greatest tragedies would be to have your child go through the discomfort of having squints, the bullying and the emotional trauma of being "different" only to find out that they didn't have to.
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