At least 1.4 million Americans suffer and are treated for a traumatic brain injury (TBI), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is a condition that often results from a violent blow or jolt to the head or a hit to the body that causes the head and the brain to shake violently back and forth. TBI can be mild, moderate, or severe depending on the nature of the injury, the force of impact, and other factors.
A mild form of TBI is called a concussion, and while it is not usually life-threatening, it is a serious medical condition that must be treated as soon as possible. Its symptoms may manifest either immediately or may develop for hours, days, weeks, or even months after the injury occurred. The most common symptoms involve your eyes and your vision.
In today’s article, Clearfinity Eyecare Optometrist, your trusted eye health center that offers eyeglasses and contact lenses in Gunston Heights, VA, takes a closer look at how concussions affect one’s vision. We’ll first discuss the causes and symptoms of concussions. Then, we’ll focus on the eye and vision problems associated with the condition. Lastly, we’ll provide information on how these are diagnosed and treated.
A concussion affects how your brain functions. Effects are usually temporary but can include headaches and problems with concentration, balance, coordination, and memory. In many cases, it can lead to unconsciousness, but most do not. In fact, after a blow to the head, it is possible to have a concussion without realizing it.
Causes of Concussion
Common events and activities that may increase your risk of a concussion include the following:
- Falling from a certain height, particularly among younger children and older adults
- Being involved in a motor vehicle accident
- Participating in contact sports with an increased risk of head injury, including basketball, boxing, football, hockey, and soccer.
- Participating in high-risk sports without any protective equipment and supervision
- Being a soldier involved in combat
- Having previously incurred a concussion
General Concussion Symptoms
You must understand the symptoms of a concussion, especially if you are going through any of them yourself following an accident. Common symptoms include headache, confusion, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, slow reaction to stimuli, and balance problems. In some cases, a friend or loved one might be having these symptoms without knowing it. Look for signs of irritability, issues with walking and balancing, slurred speech, and abnormal eye movement. Seek immediate emergency medical treatment by going to your nearest healthcare facility or calling 911.
Common Eye Symptoms Following a Concussion
A frequent symptom of concussion, however, is one that involves the eyes. Studies have found that vision-related problems may affect 69% to 82% of concussed patients, regardless of age. Among teenagers, close to half had been clinically diagnosed with two or more eye symptoms because of concussion.
Here’s an in-depth look at the most common eye symptoms that occur following a concussion:
1. Blurred or Double Vision
A common complaint after a concussion, this symptom may result from eye muscle or nerve damage. This can lead to the eyes’ alignment diverging when trying to focus on nearby objects. It also indicates a more serious neurological disorder, such as migraine-associated vertigo.
Several pain-sensitive structures within the brain may become displaced, irritated, or injured because of the force of the trauma, leading to light sensitivity. This may worsen if you look at a particularly bright light source like sunlight, indoor lighting, and even the screens of televisions and digital devices.
3. Ocular Pain
In a concussion, the muscles around your eyes may contract and may stay that way for an extended period. Together with light exposure, you may feel a stabbing pain, a dull ache, or an itchy or burning sensation.
4. Visual Motion Sensitivity
Patients with concussion often report that they feel disoriented or uncomfortable whenever they are exposed to large crowds or busy, disorienting environments. This symptom is thought to be caused by abnormalities in the central nervous system that affects one’s ability to react and process complex external stimuli.
5. Abnormal Eye Movement
Common in concussed patients, it is characterized by the eyes’ inability to track and focus on moving objects, scan and shift visual focus, and maintain focus while the head is moving.
Apart from these, your esteemed eye doctor in Woodbridge, VA also notes that a severe concussion can lead to more serious eye-related problems, some of which may result in vision loss. For instance, a blow to the head may be significant enough to cause the eye’s retina to come loose. Also, the added pressure within the skull “chokes” the optic nerves, cutting off blood circulation. Both call for immediate treatment to prevent complete blindness.
Post-Trauma Vision Syndrome
It is often said that about two-thirds of the human brain is involved in the various aspects of visual function. Following a concussion or head trauma, however, the brain may suffer from neurological deficits in areas that process visual information. In medicine, this is known as post-trauma vision syndrome (PTVS). It is characterized by concussion-related symptoms like the ones mentioned above, as well as issues with eye coordination, focus, and tracking.
Specific Conditions Stemming from PTVS
Below are some of the PTVS-related conditions that may be diagnosed by a doctor on a patient with aconcussion:
- Ocular Motor Dysfunction – This condition affects one or more visual skills, particularly the ones that allow you to “hold” your eyes steadily without moving off the target and accurately “follow” a moving target.
- Binocular Dysfunction – This deficiency refers to an inability to accurately use your two eyes together. It affects your ability to perform daily life activities, including walking, standing, sitting, driving a car, playing sports, and reading.
- Convergence Insufficiency – It is a condition in which your eyes are unable to work together when looking at nearby objects. This causes double vision.
- Convergence Excess – It is the exact opposite of convergence insufficiency. Here, the eyes cross over each other too much when they are focused on nearby objects.
- Visual Midline Shift – It refers to the mismatch between visual and spatial information processed by the brain. People with concussion often feel like everything has moved over to one side. If left untreated, patients with this condition will have balance and posture problems.
Concussion Diagnosis and Treatment
If you or your loved one feel like experiencing concussion-like symptoms, especially following an accident at home or while playing sports, it’s a good idea to go to a medical facility as soon as possible. There, your attending physician will evaluate your signs and symptoms and review your medical history.
Your doctor will also conduct tests to determine the severity of your concussion. In a neurological examination, your vision, hearing, strength and sensation, balance, coordination, and reflexes will be evaluated. You’ll also be tested if you have any changes in your cognitive skills, focusing primarily on your memory, concentration, and ability to recall information.
Brain imaging may also be conducted, especially if you or your loved one displays worsening symptoms. Cranial computerized tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) help identify changes to the skull and brain.
As far as treatment is concerned, your doctor may recommend taking rests to allow your brain to recover from a concussion. This means avoiding playing sports or any activity that involves vigorous movements, until such a time when doing any of these no longer triggers concussion symptoms. If you are having headaches, the doctor may prescribe over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
Visiting Your Eye Doctor
Consider an appointment with an eye doctor for a comprehensive eye exam if visual symptoms don’t go away days or weeks after your concussion and they are interfering with your normal activities. Bring along a list of your symptoms, as well as any visual changes since your injury. This will help the doctor in taking your history and making an accurate diagnosis.
Schedule your eye exam at Clearfinity Eyecare Optometrist, the area’s most trusted clinic. We are your one-stop-shop for all your vision needs. If it is determined that you need vision correction, we can help you choose the right ones here in our office. We offer top-notch contact lenses and eyeglasses in Woodbridge, VA to ensure you feel great about how well you see.