Vision Problems Following a Traumatic Brain Injury

Have you ever hit your head as a result of a sports injury, fall, car accident, or other type of activity and just “didn’t feel right” afterwards? Even though you may have returned to your normal activities after a few days, some symptoms such as headaches, sensitivity to certain noises, difficulty concentrating and remembering things, and troubles with your eyes and vision can persist. Does this sound familiar?

Photo Courtesy of Fitness Hospital on Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Fitness Hospital on Flickr

If so, it sounds like you may have suffered from a traumatic brain injury (TBI). TBIs can range from a mild concussion to a more severe, life-threatening condition. Many people can recover from a TBI quickly, but for some people, symptoms can last for days, weeks, and even longer, and can affect a person’s quality of life by disrupting their normal activities of daily living. Vision problems are one of the more common symptoms that can occur following a TBI due to damage to the parts of the brain involved in visual processing and/or perception.

Common Types of Vision Problems After TBI

  • A common visual symptom after TBI is difficulty reading and doing up-close work. Some people will notice that objects at near may look blurry either some or all of the time. It may take longer than normal to focus at near, and it may be harder to change focus from near-viewing to distance-viewing and vice versa. People also often notice that words may appear like they are moving or swimming around on the page when reading, or they may even see double vision.
  • People also often feel as though it is harder for them to feel comfortable in certain environments, and they may find themselves more irritable in places with a lot of visual patterns or motion. It is also common for those who have experienced a TBI to be bothered by glare and bright lights.
  • Visual problems following a TBI can also cause discomfort or pain, such as more headaches than usual, and nausea and motion sickness. People also sometimes report that their eyes ache or hurt and that they feel straining or pulling sensations. Excessive watering or tearing is also another common symptom.
  • Other visual problems can affect a person’s balance, posture, or their ability to move around comfortably in space. For example, a person with a TBI may notice that they have difficulty with depth perception and coordination while participating in sports or other recreational activities, or troubles with their peripheral vision.
  • Other common visual symptoms following a TBI include difficulty in the brain’s ability to take in and understand certain visual information. People may notice problems searching or scanning for visual information, troubles maintaining mental focus, and/or issues with recognizing, or recalling visual information.

Treatments Available for Vision-Related TBI Symptoms

Depending on the type and causes of visual symptoms following a TBI, there are many treatment options available to help with recovery.

  • Prescription eyeglasses for distance and/or near vision may be required after a TBI. If someone wore glasses before the injury, changes in their prescription may be necessary to provide the most comfortable vision possible. If they did not wear glasses prior to the TBI, prescription glasses may help relieve some of their symptoms.
  • In some cases, specialized glasses, such as those with prism, can help with problems of double vision or when the eyes are not working well together. Prism glasses can also help people who are experiencing problems with mobility due to visual field loss.
  • Vision therapy is another great treatment option that certain optometrists can perform that help train the eyes how to work better together, increase focusing abilities, help with eye movements and eye tracking, and improve other potential problems with visual perception and cognition.
  • Lifestyle changes are also often necessary to reduce bothersome symptoms. These can include avoiding certain lighting conditions that can cause disturbing sensitivity and glare, taking breaks when doing tasks that rely heavily on near vision demands, and avoiding situations that may overload the visual system.

How are Vision Problems Diagnosed?

If you or someone you know experienced a head injury and has noticed any persistent visual problems following the injury, an eye doctor should be part of the team of medical professionals and can help check for vision difficulties. An optometrist will then go through a battery of eye tests to check vision, eye health, how the eyes focus, how they eyes move, the ability of the eyes to work together properly, along with other visual processing test to determine any insufficiencies.

~Amanda K. Dexter, OD
California Optometric Association

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