Functional Vision Problems After Concussions: Symptoms and Treatments

According to current research, the prevalence of vision problems after concussions may be as high as 69 percent. concussion-related functional vision problems can be debilitating, severely impacting your ability to learn, work and live a normal life.

Fortunately, concussion-related functional vision problems can be treated through the use of vision therapy.

What are concussion-related functional vision problems?

Concussion-related functional vision problems are impaired functional vision skills resulting from a head injury. Functional vision is your ability to move, team and focus your eyes to gather information from the world around you. They include the functional visual skills of eye focusing, eye tracking and eye teaming. (It should be noted that eyesight is one of the many visual skills.)

Eye focusing - Your ability to see an object clearly (especially at near) and your ability to shift focus between objects at different distances.

Eye teaming - Your ability to direct both eyes to fixate on the same object. The two images, one from each eye, are combined by your brain to give you depth perception.

Eye movements - Your ability to fixate and follow a moving object and to switch fixation between objects.

Studies reveal link between concussion and vision problems

Our society is becoming more and more aware of how often concussions occur. In their medical claims data since 2010 for patients ages 10 to 19, Blue Cross Blue Shield reported a 71% increase in rough sport-related concussions.

Research is also revealing the link between concussion and vision problems.

The prevalence study “Vision Diagnoses are Common After Concussion in Adolescents,“ revealed that out of 100 adolescents diagnosed with a concussion, 69% were also diagnosed with a functional vision problem.  We detail the study in this post on the concussion-vision link.

In the retrospective study “Vision Therapy for Post Concussion Vision Disorders,” out of 218 patients diagnosed with a concussion and referred for a functional vision problem:

62% of patients experienced Binocular Vision (Eye Teaming) Problems
54% of patients experienced Accommodation (Focusing) Problems
21% of patients experienced Eye Tracking Problems

We detail that study on brain injuries and vision in this post

But how do these issues manifest in patients? Let’s take a look at the typical symptoms.

Concussion Vision Symptoms

Symptoms may vary among concussed patients, but typical symptoms include:

  • Double vision
  • Poor eye tracking ability
  • Difficulties with shifting gaze quickly from one point to another
  • Focusing
  • Loss of binocular vision (eye alignment)
  • Eye strain
  • Fatigue
  • Glare, or light sensitivity
  • Inability to maintain visual contact
  • Headaches
  • Blurred near vision
The extent of the injury can also impact a person’s visual information processing ability. This can cause the following symptoms:

  • Spatial disorientation
  • Difficulties with balance and posture
  • Poor depth perception
  • Memory loss
  • Poor handwriting
In some of the success stories we detail below, these symptoms can be debilitating, rendering a patient helpless to overcome ongoing pain and disorientation. The issue is that the visual system has been impaired, and it requires vision therapy to return to normal functionality.

Treatment for post-concussion vision problems

Treatment for a functional vision problem resulting from a concussion will be different for every patient. After we’ve diagnosed the specific issue affecting a patient, our developmental optometrists may recommend some or all of these treatment methods:

Glasses: Prescription lenses specifically designed to alleviate symptoms and improve visual function.

Syntonics: An imbalance in the autonomic nervous system is commonly seen in traumatic brain injuries. This imbalance negatively affects a person’s use of their vision. A non-invasive treatment using therapeutic light, syntonic phototherapy can be successful in restoring balance to the autonomic nervous system, which supports the rehabilitation of visual skills.

Vision therapy: A series of in-office and at-home activities and exercises designed to improve the visual skills that have been affected by a head injury. In some cases, the patient may just be given activities to be done at home. In other cases, a combination of home and in-office VT will be recommended.

The length of treatment will also vary with each patient based on how many visual skill areas are affected and their individual case. No matter what the duration of time, we’ve found that patients experience improvement throughout the treatment.

Success rates for vision therapy after concussions

The goal of vision therapy following a brain injury is to restore the patient’s visual function. As is typical with any type of rehabilitation following a brain injury, the outcome can sometimes be difficult to predict. Each case is unique, and we work hard to provide a customized treatment plan to address the patient’s needs and ensure the best possible outcome.

In the prevalence study mentioned previously, of the patients who completed therapy:
  • 85% of patients with Convergence Insufficiency were successful and 15% were improved
  • 33% of patients with Accommodative Insufficiency were successful and 67% improved.

We’ve included three of our own success stories here so you can get a sense of how treatment works beyond the numbers.

Celeste Glover

Celeste Glove

Celeste Glover experienced a traumatic brain injury after a nearly fatal motorcycle accident. After vision therapy, her peripheral vision, depth perception and focus are nearly back to normal.

Emily Baxter

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Emily Baxter suffered a pulmonary embolism with secondary anoxic brain injury. She would fatigue easily and had a hard time processing what she heard or saw. Vision therapy provided life-changing improvements, allowing her to resume life activities.

Kim Lohr

Kim Lohr was walking one winter morning when she slipped on a patch of ice. She suffered a concussion. She couldn’t drive, and watching TV or reading made her nauseous. Vision therapy has helped her overcome these issues.

Your next step to overcoming vision problems after a head injury

If you’re suffering many of the symptoms listed here, we recommend a Functional Vision Test. A Functional Vision Test assesses eye movements, eye tracking and eye focusing. It includes a thorough evaluation of the skills typically impaired by concussions.

After the test has been conducted, the doctors will recommend specific treatment options. To make an appointment for a Functional Vision Test, or to request more information, fill in the form below.