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Eye muscle surgery is a procedure to weaken, strengthen, or reposition any of the muscles that move the eyeball (the extraocular muscles).
The purpose of eye muscle surgery is generally to align the pair of eyes so that they gaze in the same direction and move together as a team, either to improve appearance or to aid in the development of binocular vision in a young child. To achieve binocular vision, the goal is to align the eyes so that the location of the image on the retina of one eye corresponds to the location of the image on the retina of the other eye.
Depth perception (stereopsis) develops around the age of three months old. For successful development of binocular vision and the ability to perceive three-dimensionally, the surgery should not be postponed past the age of four. The earlier the surgery the better the outcome, so an early diagnosis is important. Surgery may even be performed before two years old. After surgery, if binocular vision is to develop, corrective lenses and eye exercises (vision therapy) will probably be necessary.
The extraocular muscles attach via tendons to the sclera (the white, opaque, outer protective covering of the eyeball) at different places just behind an imaginary equator circling the top, bottom, left, and right of the eye. The other end of each of these muscles attaches to a part of the orbit (the eye socket in the skull). These muscles enable the eyes to move up, down, to one side or the other, or any angle in between.
Normally both eyes move together, receive the same image on corresponding locations on both retinas, and the brain fuses these images into one three-dimensional image. The exception is in strabismus which is a disorder where one or both eyes deviate out of alignment, most often outwardly (exotropia) or toward the nose (esotropia). The brain now receives two different images, and either suppresses one or the person sees double (diplopia). This deviation can be adjusted by weakening or strengthening the appropriate muscles to move the eyes toward the center. For example, if an eye turns upward, the muscle at the bottom of the eye could be strengthened.
There are two methods to alter extraocular muscles. Traditional surgery can be used to strengthen, weaken, or reposition an extraocular muscle. The surgeon first makes an incision in the conjunctiva (the clear membrane covering the sclera), then puts a suture into the muscle to prevent it from getting lost and loosens the muscle from the eyeball with a surgical hook. During a resection, the muscle is detached from the sclera, a piece of muscle is removed so the muscle is now shorter, and the muscle is reattached to the same place. This strengths the muscle. In a recession, the muscle is made weaker by repositioning it. More than one extraocular eye muscle might be operated on at the same time.
Another way of weakening eye muscles, using botulinum toxin injected into the muscle, was introduced in the early 1980s. Although the botulinum toxin wears off, the realignment may be permanent, depending upon whether neurological connections for binocular vision were established during the time the toxin was active. This technique can also be used to adjust a muscle after traditional surgery.
As with any surgery, there are risks involved. Eye muscle surgery is relatively safe, but very rarely a cut muscle gets lost and can not be retrieved. This and other serious reactions, including those caused by anesthetics, can result in vision loss in the affected eye. Occasionally, retinal or nerve damage occurs. Double vision is not uncommon after eye muscle surgery. As mentioned earlier, glasses or vision therapy may be necessary.
Strabismus is a condition in which the eyes are crossed, turned outward, or vertically misaligned. A child with strabismus may have trouble reading due to impaired vision, experience difficulties in social situations because of seemingly indirect eye contact, and be made fun of by peers because of the stigma associated with crossed eyes and other forms of strabismus. At Eye Surgeons Associates, our physicians utilize the latest strabismus treatments to help both children and adults achieve improved vision and a better cosmetic appearance.