Orthoptics is the study of a range of eye conditions that cause abnormal vision, usually related to incorrect visual alignment and incorrect eye movement. Orthopists are trained at university level for entry into this allied health profession, with much of their work done in the assessment of children’s vision and some corrective work to address vision problems related to poor eye movement.
Orthoptics is generally employed when the individual has a visual abnormality caused by eye movement problems. Examples of the kinds of problems for which a patient may consult an orthopist include Amblyopia (lazy eye), defective binocular vision where the two eyes are not working in ‘sync’ and the patient has trouble with depth perception, Diplopia (double vision) caused by abnormal eye movements and in a range of scenarios where injury or disease lead to abnormal eye movements caused by muscles or nerve problems or physical obstruction.
Eye conditions that may require consultation with an orthopist are often detected by the orthopist in a series of diagnostic tests. These tests may take place in routine assessment and diagnostic checks of children for any developmental problems, or they may be conducted when the child is referred to the orthopist by another medical professional. The diagnostic tests that the orthopist carries out will assess the problem and determine the underlying causes. Orthoptics then involves working on correcting muscular or vision deficiency through eye exercises designed to restore the vision and correct any visual abnormality.
The eye is a sensitive organ and the muscular and nervous structure around the eye area is highly susceptible to damage. The benefit of orthotics is that it offers a feasible alternative to surgery, making it a favourable first choice for people with muscular and nerve abnormalities and obstructions in the eye area.
The correction of eye problems can be done in a number of ways. In the first instance, wherever possible, the orthopist will guide the patient on how to carry out exercises either at their office or clinic or in the patient’s home. These exercises are designed to strengthen both the eyes and improve their positioning relative to each other. Other forms of assistance may be offered by strengthening one eye at a time. This may be achieved by using occlusion, where the use of medicinal drugs, eye patches or occlusion lenses may allow the improvement of a weaker eye. In problems of squinting and double vision, the use of prisms or lenses can limit double vision or a squint.
Through the use of diagnostics to assess the problem and the careful development of a plan to rectify the condition, orthopists are able to provide less invasive means of correcting eye problems and strengthening the muscular and developmental problems that can lead to lazy eyes, squints and double vision, among other problems. Orthoptics helps to discover developmental problems in children at an early stage, thereby helping to improve vision and limit the continued development of poor musculature and associated eye and vision problems.