Strabismus Surgery: From Preparation to Recovery

Jul 07, 2024 | 7 min read

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Strabismus surgery is a crucial procedure to correct misaligned eyes, often caused by muscle imbalance. Effective management of this condition can significantly improve vision and quality of life for both children and adults.

Strabismus surgery

What is Strabismus Surgery?

Strabismus surgery corrects misaligned eyes, known as crossed eyes, by adjusting the eye muscles to improve alignment and coordination. This procedure addresses imbalances in the eye muscles that cause one or both eyes to turn in different directions, leading to vision problems and self-esteem issues, particularly in children.

Performed on both children and adults, strabismus eye surgery involves tightening or loosening the eye muscles without making skin incisions or removing the eye from its socket. Instead, the surgeon makes a small incision in the conjunctiva to access the muscles.

The primary goal is to realign the eyes, improving appearance and function, and restoring binocular vision. This surgery significantly enhances a person's quality of life. 

However, the final eye position may require further adjustments, and some patients might need additional surgeries. Typically, it's an outpatient procedure, allowing patients to return home the same day.

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Who Needs Strabismus Surgery?

Strabismus surgery is recommended for individuals with misaligned eyes who have not responded to non-surgical treatments. According to different publications, approximately 2-5% of the population has strabismus, affecting both children and adults. 

Non-surgical treatments such as glasses, patching, or vision therapy are often the first line of defense. However, when these methods fail, surgery becomes a viable option.

Importance of Early Intervention

Children are the most common candidates for strabismus surgery, typically diagnosed between the ages of one and four. Early intervention is crucial as it can prevent further vision problems and improve the chances of successful alignment. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends performing strabismus surgery before age six for the best outcomes.

In some cases, older children and adults may also require surgery, especially if strabismus develops later in life due to injury or other medical conditions.

Types of Strabismus

Several types of strabismus can necessitate surgery:

  • Exotropia: One or both eyes turn outward.
  • Esotropia: One or both eyes turn inward.
  • Hypertropia: One eye turns upward.
  • Hypotropia: One eye turns downward.
  • Cyclotropia: The eyes are misaligned torsionally, rotating inward or outward.
Types of Strabismus

Strabismus Surgery in Adults

In adults, the decision to undergo strabismus surgery often hinges on the impact of misalignment on daily life and visual function. While some adults adapt to minor misalignments, others may experience significant discomfort or double vision.

Understanding how successful strabismus surgery in adults can be is crucial for making an informed decision. Success rates vary, but many adults report improved alignment and quality of life post-surgery.

According to recent data from Mass Eye and Ear, the success rate of strabismus surgery without diplopia following a single surgery ranges from 68.2% to 79.8% over the past five years, depending on various factors such as the type of strabismus and the specific surgical technique used:

Success Rates for Adult Strabismus Surgery

Types of Strabismus Surgery

Strabismus surgery involves several techniques to adjust the eye muscles and correct misaligned eyes. The choice of technique depends on the specific needs of the patient, such as the type and severity of the misalignment. Here are the main types of strabismus surgery:


Recession surgery is used to weaken an overactive eye muscle. During this procedure, the surgeon detaches the muscle from its original position on the eye and reattaches it further back. This repositioning reduces the muscle's pulling force, helping to correct the eye's alignment.

  • How it works: Imagine a rubber band stretched tight. Moving its attachment point closer to the center makes it less tight. Similarly, moving the eye muscle further back on the eye reduces its tension.
  • Who it helps: This surgery is especially useful for people whose eyes turn inward (esotropia) or outward (exotropia).


Resection surgery is used to strengthen a weak eye muscle. In this procedure, the surgeon shortens the muscle by removing a small section, then reattaches the remaining muscle to its original position. This makes the muscle tighter and stronger.

  • How it works: Think of the same rubber band, but this time cutting a piece out and re-stretching it. The rubber band becomes tighter. Similarly, shortening the eye muscle increases its pulling force.
  • Who it helps: This surgery is often combined with recession surgery on the opposite muscle to balance eye movement. It's effective for various types of misalignment, like when one eye turns inward or outward.

Adjustable Sutures

Adjustable suture surgery provides flexibility by allowing the surgeon to fine-tune the eye alignment after the initial surgery. The surgeon uses a temporary knot on the muscle, which can be adjusted after the surgery to perfect the alignment.

  • How it works: After the surgery, while the patient is awake and under local anesthesia, the surgeon can adjust the sutures to correct any remaining misalignment.
  • Who it helps: This technique is ideal for older children and adults who can cooperate during the adjustment process. It offers more precise results in complex cases.

Understanding these different types of strabismus surgery can help patients and their families make informed decisions about the best treatment options. Each technique offers unique benefits tailored to specific needs, contributing to improved eye alignment and overall vision health.

Risks and Benefits of Strabismus Surgery

Strabismus surgery offers significant benefits but also comes with potential risks. Understanding these can help you make an informed decision about undergoing the procedure.

Benefits of Strabismus Surgery

  1. Improved Eye Alignment: The primary benefit of strabismus surgery is the correction of misaligned eyes. Proper alignment allows both eyes to work together, improving overall vision and depth perception.
  2. Enhanced Appearance and Confidence: Correcting eye misalignment can greatly enhance a person's appearance, leading to improved self-esteem and social interactions.
  3. Better Vision Function: Surgery can reduce or eliminate double vision (diplopia), making daily activities easier and more comfortable. Improved eye coordination also helps in tasks that require precise vision, like reading and driving.
  4. Long-Term Stability: For many patients, the surgery provides long-term correction of strabismus. While some may need additional procedures, the majority experience stable, improved eye alignment.
  5. Improved Quality of Life: With better vision and appearance, patients often find a significant improvement in their overall quality of life, including better performance in work or school.

Risks of Strabismus Surgery

  1. Recurrent Misalignment: In some cases, the eyes may drift back to their original misaligned position or over-correct in the opposite direction, necessitating additional surgery.
  2. Infection: As with any surgery, there is a risk of infection. Symptoms may include redness, pain, swelling, or discharge. Prompt medical attention is required to address infections.
  3. Bleeding: Minor bleeding during or after surgery is possible. Severe bleeding is rare but can occur.
  4. Double Vision (Diplopia): Some patients may experience persistent double vision after surgery. This usually improves over time but may require further treatment.
  5. Scarring: The surgery involves incisions that can lead to scarring. While typically minor, scarring can sometimes affect eye movement.
  6. Ptosis (Eyelid Drooping): In rare cases, surgery can lead to drooping of the eyelid, which may need additional treatment.
  7. Adverse Reactions to Anesthesia: Some patients may have allergic reactions or other complications related to anesthesia.

Understanding these risks and benefits can help you weigh the pros and cons of strabismus surgery. Consulting with your eye care provider will provide more personalized information based on your specific condition.

Preparation for Strabismus Surgery

Preparing for strabismus surgery is a crucial step to ensure a smooth procedure and successful recovery. Here are the key steps involved:

Medical History Review:

  • Your doctor will review your complete medical history, including any past surgeries or treatments related to your eyes.
  • Inform your doctor about all the medications and supplements you are currently taking, especially blood thinners, as you might need to stop them before surgery.

Pre-Surgery Eye Examination:

  • A detailed eye examination will be conducted to determine the exact muscles that need adjustment.
  • The exam may include measurements and assessments to plan the surgical approach effectively.

Blood Tests:

Blood tests might be required to ensure you are in good health and to check for any conditions that could affect the surgery or anesthesia.

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Anesthesia Planning:

  • The type of anesthesia used depends on your age, health, and the complexity of the surgery. Most children and some adults will receive general anesthesia, while others might receive local anesthesia with sedation.
  • During the pre-anesthesia visit, your healthcare provider will instruct you on when to stop eating and drinking before surgery, typically after midnight before the day of surgery.

Allergies and Anesthesia Concerns:

  • Discuss any known allergies to medications with your doctor.
  • If you or your family have had any issues with anesthesia in the past, inform your medical team to take the necessary precautions.

Recovery and Postoperative Care

Recovery from strabismus surgery is crucial to ensure the best outcomes. Here’s what you need to know and how to care for yourself after the procedure:

Immediate Post-Surgery:

  • After the surgery, you will be taken to a recovery room where your vital signs will be monitored.
  • Most patients can go home the same day but will need a responsible adult to drive them and stay with them for the first 24 hours.

Managing Discomfort:

  • Expect redness and soreness in the eye, which can last for several weeks.
  • Your doctor will prescribe eye drops or ointment to prevent infection and reduce inflammation.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers may be recommended to manage discomfort.

Activity Restrictions:

  • Rest is crucial during the initial recovery period. Avoid strenuous activities for at least a week.
  • Do not drive until your doctor gives you the green light.
  • Avoid swimming pools, saunas, and hot tubs for two weeks to reduce the risk of infection.

Follow-Up Appointments:

  • Attend all scheduled follow-up appointments to monitor healing and make any necessary adjustments.
  • If adjustable sutures were used, you might need additional visits to fine-tune the alignment.

Signs to Watch For:

Contact your doctor if you experience severe pain, worsening vision, signs of infection (such as fever, increased redness, or discharge), or if you notice any unusual symptoms.

Long-Term Care:

  • Full recovery can take several weeks to a few months.
  • Continue to follow your doctor's advice and attend follow-up visits to ensure the best outcome.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Key Takeaways

  • Strabismus surgery adjusts eye muscles to correct misalignment, improving coordination and vision.
  • Early intervention, particularly before age six, is recommended for the best outcomes.
  • The procedure is beneficial for both children and adults, enhancing self-esteem and quality of life.
  • Post-surgery recovery involves careful monitoring and adherence to activity restrictions to ensure successful healing.
  • Consultation with your healthcare provider is essential to address any concerns and tailor the treatment to your specific needs.
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