Squinting: Causes, Types, and How to Treat It

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Squinting: Causes, Types, and How to Treat It Optometrist

Squinting is a common visual behavior where a person partially closes their eyelids to improve focus or reduce glare and bright light. While it's a natural reaction that can help in some situations, frequent or prolonged squinting may be a sign of an underlying vision problem like nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism and lazy eye. Squinting can sometimes be an unconscious effort to achieve clearer vision by changing the shape of the eye, which could indicate a need for corrective lenses.

Approximately 2-3% of children experience a squint, and the likelihood increases if there's a family history of squints. Kids who are farsighted might develop a squint when not wearing their glasses, as their eyes work extra hard to focus on objects.

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Why Do People Squint?

Squinting serves several functions, each related to different aspects of visual perception. Here's a breakdown of why people might squint:

Improves Focus: Squinting narrows the eye's aperture, similar to how a camera's aperture works. This limited opening can help direct light more accurately onto the retina, making the image clearer.

Reduces Glare: In bright conditions, squinting minimizes the amount of light entering the eyes. This is especially helpful when the sun is glaring or when facing reflective surfaces like water or snow.

Enhances Depth Perception: By narrowing the field of vision, squinting can aid in gauging distances and understanding the spatial relationships between objects. This is often used in tasks that require precise hand-eye coordination.

Adapts to Poor Lighting: In dim conditions, squinting can help you discern shapes and movement more effectively. This is because the narrowed aperture helps focus limited light better onto the retina.

Counteracts Vision Defects: People with refractive errors like myopia (nearsightedness) or hyperopia (farsightedness) may squint unconsciously to get a clearer view. Squinting in such cases alters the path of light rays, making it easier for them to focus on the retina.

Prevents Foreign Objects: Squinting can act as a protective mechanism to prevent dust, wind, or other foreign objects from entering the eyes.

If you find yourself squinting frequently, it could be an indication of an underlying eye issue that requires professional evaluation by an optometrist. A functional eye exam can determine the reason behind the squinting and help in prescribing the appropriate treatment.

Treatment for Squints

Treatment for Squints

Addressing squints, especially in children, is crucial for protecting vision and enhancing the likelihood of successful treatment. Here's an overview of some common treatments for squints:

Prescription Glasses

For many patients, especially children, wearing corrective lenses can significantly improve a squint. Glasses help the eyes focus better and may alleviate the need for the eyes to turn inward or outward to see clearly.

Vision Therapy

Vision therapy consists of a series of eye exercises designed to improve coordination and alignment between the two eyes. These exercises aim to train the eyes to work together, thereby improving binocular vision and reducing symptoms like double vision.

Although not a complete cure for all types of squints, vision therapy can be helpful, particularly for intermittent strabismus. One common home-based exercise is pencil pushups (HBPP). To perform HBPP:

  • Hold a pencil at arm's length, centered between your eyes.
  • Focus on the pencil while gradually bringing it closer to your nose, trying to maintain a single image.
  • Once the pencil appears as a double image, hold it at the closest point where it remains a single image.
  • If you lose focus, restart the exercise.

Studies have shown that performing HBPP for 15 minutes daily for 6 weeks can be as effective as formal in-office therapies.

Eye Patching

If a lazy eye (amblyopia) is present along with a squint, an eye patch may be prescribed for the stronger eye. This encourages the weaker eye to work harder, improving its vision and aiding in the treatment of the squint.

Prism Glasses

Prism glasses are often used as a non-invasive way to treat strabismus, commonly known as squinting, in adults. These glasses are particularly helpful when dealing with double vision, also known as diplopia. The prism in the lenses works by bending the light, helping to merge the separate images seen by each eye. This helps to either lessen or completely get rid of double vision, aiming for a unified, clear view.

Surgical Intervention

Surgery is sometimes necessary for treating squints. This operation typically adjusts the external eye muscles that control eye movement. The surgery involves repositioning these muscles, which are situated close to the front of the eye under the conjunctiva, using stitches. Surgery is usually done as a day procedure, meaning you'll likely go home the same day. There are two types: adjustable and non-adjustable. The adjustable kind allows for minor corrections post-surgery and is generally used for older children and adults.

Risks and Follow-up

While squint surgery is common and usually safe, there can be some unpredictability in the eyes' exact post-surgery position. In some instances, more than one operation may be needed. Additionally, squints that were corrected in childhood can sometimes re-emerge in adulthood. If this happens, consult your healthcare provider promptly.

By addressing squints early, especially in children, and adhering to the recommended treatment plan, most people can achieve improved eye alignment and better vision.

Is Squinting Bad for My Eyes?

Is Squinting Bad for My Eyes?

Squinting isn't inherently bad and is a natural response to various visual and environmental conditions. However, frequent or persistent squinting can be a sign of underlying problems and could have some adverse effects. Let's explore some of these concerns:

Eye Strain

Chronic squinting can put additional stress on the eye muscles and the visual system. This may lead to eye strain, which can manifest as discomfort, fatigue, or headaches after prolonged periods of squinting.

Temporarily Alters Vision

When you squint, you're artificially changing the way light enters your eye. While this can result in temporary improved vision, it's not a substitute for proper vision correction like glasses or contact lenses.

Possible Indication of Vision Issues

Frequent squinting can often be a sign that you're struggling with a refractive error like myopia, hyperopia, or astigmatism. In these cases, your eyes are working harder to focus, which is not ideal for long-term eye health.

May Exacerbate Dry Eyes

Squinting for long periods can reduce the frequency of blinking, which can cause the eyes to dry out. Dry eyes can result in a scratchy or burning sensation and can make you more susceptible to infections.

Cosmetic Concerns

Repeated squinting can contribute to the formation of "crow's feet," or fine lines and wrinkles around the eyes. While not a health concern, it is a cosmetic one for some people.

Concerns in Children

For children, frequent squinting can be particularly worrisome. It might indicate amblyopia (lazy eye), refractive errors, or even binocular vision problems that could affect their learning and development if not addressed.

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Different Types of Squints

Different Types of Squints

Squints, also known medically as strabismus, can manifest in various ways. Understanding the different types can help in proper diagnosis and treatment. Here are the main categories:

Horizontal Squints

  1. Esotropia (Convergent Squint): In this type, one or both eyes turn inward towards the nose. Esotropia is common in young children and may be constant or intermittent.
  2. Exotropia (Divergent Squint): Here, one or both eyes turn outward away from the nose. Exotropia can occur when the person is focusing on distant objects or may be present all the time.

Vertical Squints

  1. Hypertropia: In this form, one eye turns upward. It's less common than horizontal types.
  2. Hypotropia: Here, one eye turns downward. This is also a rare form of squint.

Paralytic Squint

This type occurs when one of the eye muscles is paralyzed due to nerve damage, leading to misalignment. It often manifests suddenly and can cause double vision.

Accommodative Squint

This is linked to the eye's focusing mechanism and usually occurs when the eyes are trying to see clearly at close range. It's often related to refractive errors like hyperopia and can be corrected with proper lenses.

Intermittent Squint

This type of squint occurs only occasionally, such as when the individual is tired or unwell. It may not require surgical intervention if it doesn't interfere significantly with vision.


This is a subtle form of squint where the misalignment is so slight it's hard to notice. However, it can still affect depth perception and binocular vision.

How Does Squinting Work?

The act of squinting may seem simple, but it involves a combination of ocular and neurological processes. Let's delve into the mechanics of how squinting works to improve vision or protect the eyes:

Narrowing the Aperture

Squinting narrows the opening through which light enters the eye, effectively reducing the aperture. This is similar to reducing the aperture size in a camera, which increases the depth of field and allows for a broader range of focus.

Directing Light Rays

When you squint, the eyelids partially block peripheral light rays from entering the eye. The light that does enter is more directly funneled onto the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. This helps create a clearer, more focused image.

Reducing Spherical Aberration

The eye lens is not perfectly shaped; it has what's called "spherical aberration," meaning light rays passing through the edge of the lens can focus differently than those passing through the center. By narrowing the aperture through squinting, fewer peripheral rays enter, reducing this aberration and improving focus.

Increasing the Depth of Field

A narrowed aperture also increases the depth of field, allowing you to perceive both near and far objects with better clarity at the same time.

Engaging Extraocular Muscles

Squinting activates the extraocular muscles surrounding the eyeball. These muscles can slightly alter the shape of the eye and help in more precise aiming of light onto the retina.

Minimizing Distractions

Squinting can also serve to block out distracting peripheral vision, helping you focus on a particular object or detail more effectively.

Protective Mechanism

In cases where squinting serves to protect the eye, it acts as a barrier to block foreign substances like dust or excessive light from entering the eye and causing damage or discomfort.

Squinting might offer temporary relief or improved vision, but it's not a long-term solution to vision problems. If you find yourself frequently squinting to see better, it's advisable to consult an eye care professional for a thorough examination and appropriate treatment.

Treatment for Squints
Vision Therapy optometry and eye care
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