We recently found this video on YouTube of a young woman who has strabismus. In the video, she describes how strabismus has affected her, and how she has to adapt her vision to deal with the problem. She also discusses the fact that she’s heading in for her third surgery to correct the problem, which makes us wish she had learned about vision therapy two surgeries ago.
We’d like to make her, and other patients who suffer from strabismus, aware of vision therapy, and how it can be far more effective at improving her functional vision.
When you watch the video, it’s clear how much her strabismus has affected her life. Most of the time she’s either worried about the appearance of the eyeturn, or she’s closing one eye to compensate for the impaired functionality. Either way, it’s a constant issue in her life.
Addressing the Underlying Cause of Strabismus
Why do this young woman’s eyes continue to turn, even after surgery? The main issue here is that strabismus surgery is basically cosmetic. It affects only the muscles that align and move the eyes. Nothing has been done to retrain the visual system – which includes the eyes, the brain and the visual pathways – to get the eyes to work together.
In most people, the brain uses the eyes as a team. They fixate on an object, and then send two images at slightly different angles to the brain. These images are combined into a 3D image, which allows for depth perception.
When a person has strabismus, the eyes are not always looking in the same place and this can cause double vision. Because of this, the brain suppresses one of the images in order to avoid confusion.
You’ll note that in the video, the woman says that after surgery, she’s been told she may experience double vision. The reason this will occur is because the visual system has not been retrained to use the two eyes together. She has also been told that the double vision will soon go away. It will, but it’s likely that her relief from double vision will be due to suppression, not the brain using the eyes together as a team. Unfortunately, she may end up where she started.
What Must Occur to Restore Binocular Vision
As developmental optometrists, we believe surgery should only be a last resort. We’ve had tremendous success using vision therapy to treat the underlying cause of many strabismic cases – poor binocular vision – and we’ve helped cure eye turns in the process.
Vision therapy is non-invasive. It carries no surgical risk.
How does vision therapy work? By using a series of activities and exercises, vision therapy helps the brain change the way it uses the eyes. The activities are done in the office and a home maintenance program is given between weekly visits. Typical cases require 6 to 9 months of weekly visits, but more complicated cases like strabismus can take longer than 9 months.
However, once binocular vision is restored, the results can be transformative. Listen to the story of Sue Barry, a strabismic patient and neuroscientist whose functional vision was corrected thanks to vision therapy.
It’s amazing when you listen to Sue Barry’s story and then compare it to the woman in the video. The symptoms are similar, as are the outcomes after two surgeries. Sue has chosen a different treatment path with vision therapy, and the results have been amazing.
Can vision therapy produce normal alignment in every case? No, but then again, no medical treatment is 100% effective. A person can still improve their functional vision even if the eye turn remains after therapy.
However, we believe the results Sue Barry discusses in her TEDxTalks will occur far more often because when vision therapy is used to treat the underlying cause of the strabismus – poor binocular vision. Feel free to leave a comment on the young woman’s video showing your support for vision therapy. We’re hoping she can soon enjoy a healthy visual system.