Don’t check me skeef!
My baby’s squint eyes are a work in progress, explains this mom of a baby with esotropia.
‘Eish, the laaitie’s eyes are lekker skeef hey!’ Yes, indeed, Mr Tactful in the supermarket queue, as you so eloquently pointed out my son’s eyes are squint.

I don’t expect you to know that the medical term is infantile esotropia. Hey, I didn’t know that either until a year ago. That was when he was diagnosed with esotropia (a squint where the eyes look inwards towards the nose).

Infantile means it’s affecting him from birth (and for the rest of his life). The diagnosis was only confirmed when he was 4months old because my son was premature and preemies often have a squint that resolves itself within the first four months as their eyes learn to focus properly. So for the first 4months we just had to ‘wait and see’.

‘Shame, he’s got lazy eyes.’ Actually, Ms Sympathetic working in the post office, his eyes are anything but lazy. Have you any idea how hard his eyes have to work to see ‘normally’ when they are battling against incorrectly shaped muscles all the time? We all have muscles on either side of our eyes that keep our eyes in position.

The muscles in my son’s eyes are too short at the side near his nose and too long on the other side. It’s exhausting keeping your eyes straight when your muscles are pulling them inwards. That’s why he looks more ‘skeef’ when he is tired.

Baby with an eye patch

‘No man, how can your mummy put a plaster on your eye, that’s so cruel.’ The truth is, Mr Judgemental in the doctor’s waiting room, that not putting a ‘plaster’ on his eye would be cruel.

We patch his eyes 24/7 alternating eyes on a daily basis so that he strengthens his sight until he can have an operation. If we did not patch him, he would favour the marginally stronger eye and lose the sight in the slightly weaker eye.

The infant brain cannot tolerate the two images of double vision (which is what you get with a severe squint) so it switches off the signal to one eye. If this happens, the brain signal to one eye eventually switches off permanently and can never be restored. Blindness caused in this way, is a common side-effect of an untreated squint. If that happened, operating would be purely cosmetic.

So, Mr Judgemental, I patch him because I love him and want him to have the chance to be able to see “normally” with both eyes, not because I am a sadist.

An eye operation

‘Hau, hau, hau! Did the baby have an operation on his eye?’ Not yet, Mrs Concerned in the park, he’s too small to have an operation to correct his squint. We hope he will be big enough by the time he is two. He’s 13 months old now but he still only weighs 9 kilograms. Can you imagine how tiny his eye muscles are?

The margin of error for the surgeons is just too great when they are working with such teeny, weeny muscles. There’s only a small chance of the first operation being a success even when he is physically big enough.

Most infants with strabismus (the medical term for a squint) have at least two operations as little ones and then another two during their lives. The saying goes ‘Esotropia means being wedded to your ophthalmologist for life’.

Imported eyewear

‘Hey check out the little dude’s funky eyewear. You’re styling, baby!” Thanks for noticing, Mr Cool walking your dog. We thought if he has to wear an eye patch every day for at least two years, he might as well do it in style.

We have to import them from America but it’s quite easy with on-line shopping albeit expensive. He’s got patches with stars, sports balls, trucks, spiders, lizards, flames, teddy bears – a different picture and colour for every day of the week. At the online shop you can also buy patching reward books and posters for older children.

They work on the same principle as getting a star for being good but in this case you stick your patch in once you’ve worn it. Our son is too young to need all these things but we did get him a customised birthday cake for his first birthday of ‘Winnie-the Patched’.

So next time you see a baby with an eye patch, don’t check him skeef or call him cross-eyed, that little pirate might just be the apple of my eye.

Do you have experience of a baby or child with eye trouble?

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