How to determine if a person with unusual eye alignment prefers one eye over another?
April 28, 2005 10:25 PM   Subscribe

A couple of recent new acquaintances have strabismus (I don't like the term "lazy eye," sorry; it's a deviation of the alignment of one eye in relation to the other). Do people with strabismus generally prefer that the folks they're speaking with focus on one eye over the other? If it's not uncommon for one of the person's eyes to develop more strongly than the other, would it be polite to simply ask a casual acquaintance if they prefer that I look into the left or right eye as we talk together?
posted by mediareport to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: [Somewhat relevant thread from AskMe archive]
posted by mediareport at 10:29 PM on April 28, 2005

I worked with a lovely lady whose strabismus got a little worse as the day wore on. We spoke about it but I never did ask if she had a preference. But then I liked looking at both of her eyes.
Generally I do try and casually change the eye I'm looking at. (which we do with non-strabismus people) But I've often wondered also...
posted by peacay at 10:31 PM on April 28, 2005

I'm emmling's friend, taking over for this question 'cause I have strabismus. In general my eyes tend to point more or less in the same direction unless I'm really tired, so most of the time I don't even notice which eye people are looking at. When my eyes are actually wandering, I do sometimes notice that the person I'm talking to is focusing on the eye I'm not currently using, but I don't tend to really care. As far as I'm concerned, I'm content if the person just looks at me in the same way as they usually look at anyone. If my eyes are seriously pointing in different directions, pick whichever one you like. And you can mention it if you like too; the only time I sometimes get a little nonplussed is when people ask about my "glass eye." The fact that you recognize it as strabismus is quite impressive, actually, and not something to offend.
posted by emmling at 10:43 PM on April 28, 2005

Well, since I'm blind in one eye and can't really control it, it kind of wanders off and as I've gotten older, it's gotten worse (as a kid, they lined up fine and the cloudiness of the blind eye was the only sign of it).

It's weird having it -- since the eyes reveal so much about ourselves I'm often amazed people don't stare at me. I think everyone is collectively being nice to me and trying not to because it's rare when I can tell they notice and I've only been asked about it directly a handful of times in my life, and mostly it was other people with eye problems. Every once in a while, I notice someone won't stop staring at my bad eye, but it's pretty rare. Maybe once a month, tops.

I guess I'd say I prefer it if people looked at my sighted eye, the one that is looking at them, and they usually do.
posted by mathowie at 10:59 PM on April 28, 2005

i just want to stick my head up and say that, when I was in high school, i had a really good friend who had a wandering eye, and while he knew about it, and was slightly sensitive, it didn't really bother him at all. As a result of the fact that he was such good people, i now automatically really trust folks with a wandering eye because they remind me of him. So it's a big plus in my book. the end.
posted by fishfucker at 2:21 AM on April 29, 2005

It is distracting to have someone make eye contact with the nondominate eye...That said it seems to me that most people that spend time with me figure out which of my eyes is the dominate eye and adjust accordingly. I do remember a time when I heard back months, (years?), later that some friends were, or mostly, had been distracted by their difficulty with figuring out which eye I was using, "which way I was looking". I think that I became more aware after this when people were having trouble and have on occasion brought the subject up my self, letting them know which is the strong eye. I believe that it is difficult for people when my eyes really go out of wack because of the natural tendency to switch eye contact from eye to eye as pecay mentioned. As I have gotten older my eye wanders less so as emmling said it is less of a issue. ( And yes my eye drifts more when I am fatigued or when I look in a particular directions.) I would prefer to have some one just ask me what is up, (kids do this), instead of becoming flustered and avoiding me

As an aside have fellow wanders tried to strengthen their eye later in life? I was told one time that it was impossible to increase the strength of the vision after one had grown.
posted by flummox at 4:17 AM on April 29, 2005

Split the difference and look at the bridge of their nose, or if it's obvious, look at the eye they're looking at you with.
posted by zsazsa at 5:35 AM on April 29, 2005

This is a hugely cultural thing. For example, when someone is talking to me I look at their mouth. And often when I'm talking to someone I'm not looking at them much at all, except as a cue that I've come to a point.
posted by krisjohn at 5:42 AM on April 29, 2005

It doesn't really bother me and no one has ever asked me that question. Most don't even notice it.. The people who seem to notice it the most are small children, who often can't seem to tell whether I am looking at them or not.
posted by batboy at 6:46 AM on April 29, 2005

Personally I'm still very self-conscious about it. Mine is pretty subtle unless I'm tired so it's not a given that people will notice. Asking me about an eye preference would definitely make me uncomfortable, but looking in the non-dominant eye wouldn't really bother me unless it seemed like you were staring (I'd wonder if you were noticing, but that's about it).

I'd greatly prefer that you look into the eye that's focused on you if you notice a difference. But I often avoid making eye contact anyway because I'm afraid that will "give it away". Basically I don't want attention drawn to it, which is why asking would bother me.

Hopefully your friends have a more mature attitude about it, but that's where I'm at now so I thought I'd share that perspective.
posted by jheiz at 7:28 AM on April 29, 2005

To be honest, I don't really notice what eye people are looking at because I avoid eye contact a great deal of the time for various reasons. If I did, though, I think I would very much prefer the dominant eye (but when I'm actually worried about appearance, I straighten the eye out manually and hold it in position until the end of the conversation/interaction/whatever.)

I am very self-conscious about it still, though I personally would not mind if someone asked me what you're considering asking. It's possible the casual acquaintance is self-conscious, too; perhaps you should wait and try and get a read on that before you ask?
posted by Kosh at 7:48 AM on April 29, 2005

My grade school principal told my class that it was a real advantage when it came to watching kids.
posted by orange swan at 7:53 AM on April 29, 2005

Do people with strabismus generally prefer that the folks they're speaking with focus on one eye over the other?

even with people without eye problems you are focusing on one eye over the other, so I wouldn't worry too much over it. Most people probably don't even really notice, or if you don't bring it up, will assume you're doing it unconsciously anyway.

I wouldn't probably bring up a wandering eye with someone I didn't know very well; seems a bit too sensitive. However, with friend or family I don't see the harm in asking. If their vision is affected, it may make a difference where you're looking... though you can usually pick up on their capacities depending on where their eyes are focused! So, as above, it usually works out subconsciously anyway.
posted by mdn at 8:16 AM on April 29, 2005

This is a great question. I was under the impression that focus was not a problem, as the lens on the eye would adjust to the angle, and therefore provide stereoscopic focus. So I always thought it didn't matter which eye I looked into, because both were fully able to focus on a single point.

Might I add to the discussion: When you look in the mirror (not photographs), do you see the strabismus? Can you tell the eye is at a different angle? My assumption would be that you would not be able to perceive it, as we can (all) only focus on one eye at a time.
posted by ValveAnnex at 8:33 AM on April 29, 2005

I have congenital strabismus, but it doesn't manifest itself oddly when I'm looking forward--my left eye doesn't go up, is farsighted, and can slip to the side if I tilt my chin up a lot. So when I'm talking to you, you can look at both eyes as you would with someone without strabismus. I do have a ptosis that makes some people think the eye doesn't work; it does and it seems odd when people avoid that eye, though generally I think they are confused, not assholes. At the same time, I don't mind people asking. It gives me an opportunity to freak them out by showing them how only one eye goes up.

The only other thing I would recommend is that when someone says they have shit depth perception and thus are clumsy and poor at sports that involve hitting things--e.g., tennis--you don't say, "Everyone says that at first."

On preview: ValveAnnex, it took me years to realize my eye was slipping to the side when I tilted my chin up. For some reason that makes the eye shut down, whereas when looking up (which is really up + forward), I can see double and actually switch focus from eye to eye.
posted by dame at 8:43 AM on April 29, 2005

dame - Oh man, yes. And if I try to argue that no really, my depth perception is total shit, they come back with something about practicing more. Drove me nuts in school.

ValveAnnex - I have some control over mine, and can make the eye wander substantially more. When I do this (or when I'm very tired and it's doing it on its own), I can see it clearly in the mirror. But ordinarily I don't really see it in my reflection.
posted by jheiz at 9:00 AM on April 29, 2005

Yes, I absolutely can see my wandering eye in a mirror. If for example I am looking out of my right eye and my left eye is wandering, I can just look at the left eye with my right eye and see that it's not pointing towards the mirror at all. Or I just kind of look at my face in general and see that the eyes aren't pointing together. But as I said, most of the time, you can't really tell with my eyes unless you're looking for it. When I'm really tired, however, they can point in DRASTICALLY different directions. And I can force them to point in crazy directions as well, but I don't have enough control over them to go cross-eyed. For the same reason, I can't really manually hold my other eye in place, even if I'm trying. I can move it, but I have to be "switched over" to that eye to do so; once I go back to using my other eye, the first one does what it pleases. Sometimes when I'm super tired this is really frustrating for me; I try and try but can't get them both to point forwards even when I'm putting all my concentration into them. And I know it's DEFINITELY time to get some sleep when my eyes start switching dominance rapidly without permission. Do you know how hard it is to read a book when the angle at which you are viewing the page changes slightly but suddenly and repeatedly? It's like someone's shaking the book. I don't know if this particular problem is common with other strabismus-y people, but it's not so fun.

Again, however, these are only problems because of practical reasons like seeing; I really don't care about other people looking at me or anything, and if they ask I have no problems explaining what's wrong with my eyes; in fact sometimes it makes for very interesting conversation because many people have never heard of strabismus and even think it's kinda cool.
posted by emmling at 9:02 AM on April 29, 2005

Yeah, jheiz, for me it was doubly complicated to explain because I am actually decent at sports and can catch.* I just can't hit a thing with another thing.

*Mostly. Every once in a while, I will lose something in midair, and that's always entertaining--it's there, then poof! where the hell are those keys? My friends exploited this to great effect in ping pong as soon as they realized that if they pop the ball up high enough, I lose it, because I'm judging its position against the table.
posted by dame at 9:14 AM on April 29, 2005

I can see my own strabismus as well, if I lose focus or relax my eyes too much. Sometimes I can tell when it happens when I'm talking to people, other times I can't (or it feels like it is turning and it actually isn't).

I'm incredibly self-conscious about it and I prefer people not to acknowledge it or ask me about it in any way, because I can't handle it gracefully, which generally just makes both the person that asks about it and me feel more awkward, even if they mean well. I just can't help feeling that makes me terribly unattractive and makes me look like a stereotypical dumb hick, so I try to ignore it. However, that being said, I can usually tell if someone has noticed it, and I prefer they look at my dominant eye (the one focussing on them) instead of looking at the wayward eye. I am more likely to act more natural if I don't think someone is focussing on my stupid eye and how freaky it looks.

If your new acquaintances are shy, mediareport, or appear to quickly flick their eyes away from yours or try to avoid making eye contact when the eye goes wandering, they may be self-conscious about it, so asking about it may be a bigger deal than for people that don't react this way when their eye turns in.

I realize this is an extreme (and probably unfair) opinion of the whole strabismus thing, and it's all focussed inwardly - e.g. I don't have this reaction to others that I notice have strabismus, I just magnify my own in my own mind. Just so that others with strabismus that have posted so far don't think I'm trying to say that I think all people with strabismus are freaks or are unattractive, it's my own vanity and self-consciousness about my own strabismus talking here.
posted by Cyrie at 10:39 AM on April 29, 2005

I talked to an eye doctor about it and he said he could fix it - not the actual vision, just the way it points. It doesn't seem the most enjoyable thing to do, but has anyone had surgery to correct it?

Cyrie, I know how you feel. I wish I wasn't so self-conscious about it, but it's hard not to be at times. Other times it doesn't bother me.
posted by Bearman at 12:50 PM on April 29, 2005

I've had two surgeries to correct my eye, once when I was 6 or 7, again when I was 16. They tighten the muscles on the side opposite to the way it turns in and it's meant to keep it facing straight ahead. Recovery wasn't too bad, but I don't have anything to compare it to, and it's not %100. It's really routine, or so said my opthalmologist. It was a longer recovery time when you are older - but it's mostly just nasty looking for a week (blood in the white).
posted by Cyrie at 2:11 PM on April 29, 2005

I had surgery when I was seven to lift my eye up, as it was lower than the other. It was done under general anesthesia, and the worst I remember was puking when I woke up. I was pissed because they had promised me a popsicle, and I couldn't eat it because I was sick. Since you're an adult that's unlikely.

The eye was red for a few days but it didn't hurt.
posted by dame at 2:20 PM on April 29, 2005

Response by poster: Wow, what wonderfully honest answers; I knew I was doing the right thing by asking here. For what it's worth, I understand the self-consciousness but hope folks with strabismus understand it's really not that big a deal to many of us who don't have it. In fact, since I've been working at a bookshop with a large group of regulars, I've noticed strabismus fairly often; it's very quickly become commonplace for me (and the same applies for almost everyone, I'd guess). My concern was that in my ignorance, I was flipping my attention from one eye to another during conversation and worried that I was making the other person uncomfortable. But today at work two new folks with strabismus came in, and I just settled on the eye I noticed first (on the assumption that would be the one the person was aiming at me) and directed my attention to that eye for the rest of the conversation.

It seemed to work beautifully. Again, to the folks who offered their experiences - many, many thanks. And if an idiot like me ever focuses on the eye you prefer to use least, please feel free to just mention that you have better vision (or however you want to say it) in the other eye.
posted by mediareport at 4:27 PM on April 30, 2005

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