Children with crossed eyes at higher risk for mental illness, study finds

Strabismus increases a child's risk for mental illness, according to a new study. Photo by SofieZborilova/Pixabay
Strabismus increases a child's risk for mental illness, according to a new study. Photo by SofieZborilova/Pixabay

March 10 (UPI) -- Children with strabismus, or what is sometimes called crossed eyes, are up to twice as likely to develop mental health problems than those without the condition, a study published Thursday by JAMA Ophthalmology found.

The risk for anxiety disorder, or persistent and uncontrollable feelings of anxiety and fear that affects a person's daily function, is twice as high in children with strabismus than it is in those without the eye condition, the data showed.


Children with the condition, which causes the eyes to not properly align with each other, also have an 83% higher risk for schizophrenia, a 64% higher risk for bipolar disorder and a 61% higher risk for depression as they age, the researchers said.

People with schizophrenia experience hallucinations, delusions, paranoia and disorganized thinking, while those with bipolar disorder suffer periods of severe depression, or sadness, followed by times of abnormally elevated mood, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

"Strabismus causes many functional and psychosocial issues for children ranging from poor vision to social stigmas," study co-author Dr. Stacy L. Pineles told UPI in an email.

"Children with strabismus tend to have lower quality of life scores, more social isolation and other limitations due to their vision and appearance," said Pineles, an associate professor of ophthalmology at UCLA Health.


"Given these consequences, it makes sense that they may be more predisposed to anxiety or depression," she added.

Previous studies have linked strabismus and other forms of eye divergence with mental health disorders.

About 4% of children in the United States have strabismus, which typically is caused by poor eye muscle control or farsightedness, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

The condition usually develops in infants and young children, most often by age 3 years, and it can be treated with special eyeglasses or contact lenses, as well as medications and surgery, the academy says.

For this study, Pineles and her colleagues compared rates of mental illness among more than 350,000 diagnosed with strabismus and more than 11.6 million without the eye condition, using insurance claims data.

Among children with strabismus, 12% developed anxiety disorder and 8% had depression, the data showed.

In addition, just over 1% were diagnosed with bipolar disorder and just under 1% were diagnosed with schizophrenia, the researchers said.

In comparison, among those without strabismus, 6% had anxiety and 6% had depression, while less than 1% had either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, according to the researchers.

"If your child has any chronic eye diseases or strabismus, be sure to pay attention to their mental state and seek help from your pediatrician and other mental health specialists if you are concerned," Pineles said.


"Of course, treating the eye condition with medical or surgical treatment ... should always be considered," she said.

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