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What is Strabismus Surgery?

By Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Updated May 17, 2024
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Strabismus surgery is also called eye muscle surgery. It is a surgical procedure that improves the strength of the eye muscles. This accomplishes a re-alignment of the eyes. The goal of this procedure is to have the eyes line up correctly with each other.

An incorrect alignment of the eyes is a medical condition referred to as strabismus. Common names for this include crossed eyes, wall eyes, or lazy eyes. A child may be born with this, or a person may acquire it as an adult due to an injury.

Surgical correction is often used for strabismus, particularly when the condition results in double vision. It may also cause binocular vision, which typically limits a person's depth perception. It cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses.

To prepare for strabismus surgery, the patient should meet with his doctor to discuss medications he is taking, and other medical conditions he may have. The patient may need to stop taking certain drugs prior to having strabismus surgery. He should also arrange to have someone drive him home following the procedure.

Patients should expect to be placed under general anesthesia, or rendered unconscious, for strabismus surgery. They are also usually told to refrain from eating or drinking for about eight to 12 hours prior to the surgery. If the surgery is being performed on a very young child, the surgeon may have special instructions regarding food and fluid intake. The administration of anesthesia can vary, depending on the age of the patient. Younger patients may inhale the necessary medication, while adult patients are typically be rendered unconscious with intravenous drugs.

The strabismus surgery itself generally does not take very long. Typically, it lasts about 20 to 40 minutes. Specific procedures vary, depending on whether the eye muscles are too weak or strong.

During the procedure, an eye muscle will be detached through an incision in the white part of the eye. The surgeon will then reattach it in another area. If the eye muscle was too weak, the surgeon reattaches it in a place where it pulls stronger on the eye. Eye muscles that were too strong will be reattached in areas where they no longer pull as hard on the eye.

Following the reattachment, the surgeon will likely use adjustable sutures, or stitches. These allow for future correction of the eye muscles, after the strabismus surgery. When the patient wakes up, the surgeon can evaluate the success of the re-alignment. If a further adjustment is needed, this can be accomplished with the adjustable sutures.

Patients are usually able to go home the day of surgery. They commonly receive medication to alleviate any discomfort or pain. A cool cloth placed over the eyes may also help alleviate soreness.

The eyes may appear red for about one to two weeks following strabismus surgery. Some patients can experience the sensation of having a foreign body in the eye for a few days. Typically, those who undergo this surgery can expect to return to normal activities in about a week.

Complications of surgery may occur. Patients who notice redness on the eyelids may have an infection. Antibiotics are usually prescribed for this. Very rare complications, such as vision loss or a reaction to anesthesia, may also occur. Patients should be aware that they may need additional surgery if the first surgery does not completely correct the problem.

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