Feeling Anxious? You May Have a Vision Problem

Editor: Dr. Russel Lazarus, Published February 7, 2021

Anxiety disorders affect millions of people each year. But did you know that certain vision problems can actually trigger anxious thoughts and feelings?

Binocular vision dysfunction (BVD), a common eye condition that develops following a traumatic brain injury (TBI), has been shown to trigger anxiety and panic attacks. 

With your binocular vision, you are able to see a single, clear image— despite having two eyes. When looking at any object, each eye sends visual input to the brain— so the brain essentially receives two different pictures.

The visual cortex, the part of the brain that processes vision, then fuses these two images into one clear image.

When the eyes are misaligned, the brain struggles to fuse the two images together. This results in a condition called binocular vision dysfunction (BVD).

Binocular vision dysfunction often leads to significant eye strain and a host of uncomfortable symptoms, including:

  • Double vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Poor depth perception
  • Difficulty reading
  • Reduced attention span
  • Dizziness and disorientation
  • Difficulty navigating through crowds
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Neck and shoulder pain

How does BVD lead to anxiety?

In severe cases of BVD, symptoms like dizziness may be so intense that a panic attack can be triggered just by walking outside.

This is especially true for those who don’t know they have BVD — the unexplained dizziness and disorientation only exacerbate their anxiety. 

Anxiety from BVD can even cause agoraphobia, a fear of leaving the home. Visually-busy environments, such as a grocery store or mall, can cause sensory overload and lead to panic attacks.

When BVD leads to reduced attention, especially when reading or working, it can affect work and school performance— leading to heightened anxiety.

What can you do?

While anti-anxiety medications can successfully treat certain kinds of anxiety, they are likely to be ineffective if the anxiety is caused by BVD.

In fact, some anti-anxiety medications have visual side effects that could actually worsen your symptoms and exacerbate your anxiety.

The first step to treating your anxiety is to visit your eye doctor for a comprehensive evaluation of your eye health and vision. 

If BVD is causing your anxiety, your eye doctor will detect eye teaming and eye tracking difficulties, as well as difficulties with the other visual skills necessary for binocular vision.

How is BVD treated? 

Prism lenses

Binocular vision dysfunction is generally treated with prism lenses that help to realign your vision to eliminate eye strain, dizziness, and the other uncomfortable symptoms you are experiencing.

Prism lenses have been shown to decrease BVD symptoms by 30-50 percent almost immediately— and overtime, by up to 70-80 percent. 

Neuro-optometric rehabilitation

In some cases, a customized program of neuro-optometric rehabilitation will be prescribed in combination with prism lenses to treat the problem at its source.

Neuro-optometric rehabilitation strengthens the visual skills necessary for clear binocular vision by strengthening the communication between the eyes and the brain to increase effective visual processing.

Anxiety can be severely debilitating and truly impact your quality of life.

If you suffer from anxiety, you might have an undiagnosed vision problem.

If you haven’t had your eyes checked recently, schedule an appointment with your eye doctor for a comprehensive eye and vision evaluation to take your first step toward feeling better.