If your child has a squint, it no longer means thick NHS glasses and pirate eye-patches. The latest squint treatment option that has eye doctors excited involves botox – yes, loved by wrinkle-phobic celebrities the world over – to realign the eyes in a quick, simple procedure.
Intrigued, we asked Mr Jain, Opthamologist from The London Clinic and Consultant Eye Surgeon at the Royal Free, to explain how a plastic surgery chemical can help.
What is a squint?
“Squints are misalignments of the eye,” explains Mr Jain. “Normally the eyes should be aligned and move together when you look from the right to the left. In some people this doesn’t happen and the eyes converge (focus towards each other) or diverge (focus outwards from each other).”
How can you tell if your child has a squint?
“The first thing you’ll probably notice is that your baby or toddler’s eyes aren’t straight and your child might seem to not be looking at you,” says Mr Jain. However, it can be hard to tell because when your child’s small her head is still growing and her features will change. It’s worth getting anything checked out, even if it’s just to put your mind at rest.
If you suspect your child has a squint, Mr Jain suggests taking a photograph. “Sometimes squints come and go and by the time you get to the GP everything seems fine. So a quick shot can help with diagnosis,” he explains.
How common are squints?
About 4% of the general population will have a squint or squint related problem, such as lazy eye.
Will your child grow out of her squint?
“Some children do grow out of squints but all should be referred for an eye check-up as they may need some help to grow the right way,” says Mr Jain.
Some children’s squints respond well to glasses. You just need the right pair, and this will often sort out the squint.
As children get older, it’s not as easy to realign and you start to need more permanent solutions, such as surgery.
How is botox used to treat childhood squints?
A new way of treating a squint involves botox. Botox is a chemical that weakens the muscles. It’s normally used in cosmetic procedures because it numbs the face muscles for about three months, reducing facial expressions and wrinkles.
“When a child’s eyes are being pulled in, we inject botox into the muscles that are pulling the eye in, which weakens them temporarily,” explains Mr Jain. “What happens in a child that doesn’t happen in adults is that when you weaken them, the child’s brain suddenly realises it can use both eyes together in a way it never has before.”
This means that even once the botox has completely worn off, the effects continue and the squint is reduced significantly.
“We’ve been using it for nearly two years now with really promising results. Best of all there’s no scarring. You get all the benefits of surgery without the permanent remnants,” says Mr Jain.
Does using botox hurt?
According to Mr Jain, using botox to treat a squint doesn’t hurt. It’s done under anaesthetic and very quickly, with the whole thing taking about five minutes.
“We use a very thin needle and it’s really just one injection around each eye so it’s not painful. It’s only the anaesthetic that makes it a bit more involved a procedure,” he says.
“We do botox in adults with squints too, and they tell us it doesn’t hurt.”
Can you get this squint treatment on the NHS?
“Absolutely,” says Mr Jain. “Most of the children we’ve treated so far have been done on the NHS. Even though not many places offer it at the moment, there’s not much of a waiting list yet. If we do see a patient who could benefit, we try to rush them through because obviously the earlier we do the treatment, better chance we have of it working.”
Mr Jain adds, “Every day does make a difference so if you’re at all concerned, definitely take your child to the doctors.”