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Is Crossing Your Eyes Harmful?

man crossing his eyes“Watch out, if you cross your eyes they might get stuck that way!” Many parents tell this to their children, but is it true?

While crossing your eyes for long periods of time might cause eye strain, they will not become permanently crossed or damaged. You can chalk this phrase up as a wives tale.

There is an eye disorder however, called strabismus, where the eyes do not look in the exact same direction as each other (often appearing crossed). Read below to learn all about this condition.

Strabismus (Crossed Eyes)

Strabismus is a condition in which both eyes do not look at the same place at the same time. It typically occurs in people who have weak eye muscle control or are very farsighted, but it can be caused by underlying medical conditions.

According to the American Optometric Association, “Strabismus usually develops in infants and young children, most often by age 3. But older children and adults can also develop the condition. People often believe that a child with strabismus will outgrow the condition. However, this is not true. In fact, strabismus may get worse without treatment. A doctor of optometry should examine any child older than 4 months whose eyes do not appear to be straight all the time.”


Each eye has six different muscles surrounding it that work together to help them both focus on the same object.

When an individual has strabismus, these muscles have a hard time working together. Consequently, one eye will focus on the object while the other will turn in a different direction.

This causes the brain to see two images. In children, the brain will often ignore the image from the weak eye, leading them to also develop a “lazy eye”.

Strabismus can develop due to weak eye muscles, family history, refractive errors, or other underlying medical conditions.

In many children with strabismus, the cause is unknown.


baby wearing eye patch

A child wearing an eye patch as part of his treatment for strabismus and “lazy eye”

When detected and treated early, treatment for strabismus is extremely effective. Your optometrist will help to determine which treatment plan best fits with you or your child’s unique case.

Treatment options for children and adults can include the following:

  • Eyeglasses or contact lenses: With corrective lenses, the eyes will not have to work as hard and may remain straight.
  • Prism lenses: Special lenses that are thicker on one side than the other. The prisms bend the light entering the eye and help reduce the amount of turning the eye has to do.
  • Vision therapy: There are many exercises that can help to improve eye coordination and focus.
  • Patching: Patching is done if a child develops ”lazy eye” on top of strabismus.
  • Medication: Eye drops and ointments are sometimes used with or in place of surgery.
  • Eye muscle surgery (rare)

At Mill Creek Family Eye Center, our eye doctors specialize in the treatment of strabismus. They will help you to tailor a treatment plan right for your case.