Recently, actress Bela Padilla answered a fan’s rather forward question on Twitter. The 26-year-old was asked, “Are you banlag?” Her reply was a yes.
Bela explained that she has been “banlag” since she was a child. The eye condition is more noticeable when she’s tired or sick, and it doesn’t affect her vision, she added. “I don’t mind [it] as long as I get to see the beautiful world we live in!”
Being banlag and duling fall under the eye condition strabismus or misaligned eyes. Strabismus is when the eyes don’t line up; hence, the eyes are “looking” in different directions. This can be outward and away from each other (wall-eyed or banlag) or inward and toward each other (cross-eyed or duling). The eyes can also be turned up or turned down.
Strabismus most commonly arises in childhood and is diagnosed between ages 1 to 4 years old, according to KidsHealth. It’s commonly caused by a problem or a weakness in the muscles that control the eyes and can be more obvious when a child is tired or looking at something closely.
When is strabismus usually diagnosed in a child? “For the first 6 months of life, duling or banlag okay lang basta dumederetso...dapat mawala na 'yun after 6 months of age,” pediatric opthalmologist Dr. Norman Fajardo from the Asian Eye Institute told ABS-CBN News. If the misalignment in a child’s eyes persists past 6 months old, this is likely due to strabismus and must be checked by a pediatrician.
Doctors advise parents to bring their children for an eye checkup as soon as they are 6 months old. Annual eye exams must be conducted on the child from then on.
Most children with the condition do not notice that their eyes are misaligned and do not complain of changes in their vision. “The child will not complain if there is a problem, so he must be checked regularly,” pediatric ophthalmologist Dr. Patricia Santiago, who holds a clinic at St. Luke’s Medical Center, told Smart Parenting.
Of those who voice out problems, they may complain of double vision or of having trouble seeing. Younger children may squint, tilt or turn their head, or close one eye in an attempt to see better, according to Stanford Children’s Health.
Can misaligned eyes be "straightened"? Yes, and the earlier the eye condition is treated, the better (which is why a 6-month eye exam is advised). Over time, the brain may ignore the visual images sent by the weaker eye. This will then cause vision problems such as bluriness or problems with depth perception which can become permanent, said KidsHealth. Early diagnosis is vital to prevent this.
Treatment differs per case. In some, wearing eyeglasses or an eye patch is enough to straighten the eyes. “This patch makes the weaker eye do the 'seeing' work. Over time, the muscles and vision in the weaker eye become stronger,” said KidsHealth. Special eye drops, with the same purpose, can also be used to blur the vision of the straight eye in order to strengthen the weaker eye.
If the above do not work, surgery may be needed. “During strabismus surgery, one or more of the eye muscles are strengthened, weakened or moved to a different position to improve alignment. Strabismus surgery is usually performed as an outpatient procedure and does not require an overnight hospital stay,” according to the American Academy of Opthalmology (AAO).
When is it too late for misaligned eyes to straighten out? Though early treatment is recommended, older kids, teens, and even adults who have strabismus may still benefit from the same treatments above — not solely for cosmetic reasons, but especially for cases where the condition has resulted in vision problems.
“There are many other benefits beyond restoring normal appearance: improved depth perception or binocular vision, improved visual fields, eliminating or minimizing double vision and improved social function,” said the AAO.