Stanford University: Concussions and the Eyes

Dr. Russel Lazarus, June 21, 2021

The visual system plays a crucial role in the diagnosis and treatment of concussions.

This month, a presentation was given by Dr. Jamshid Ghajar, MD, PhD, FACS at the Stanford Brain Performance Center (Department of Neurosurgery and Stanford Athletics), at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

This presentation, called Concussion Guidelines Step 2: Evidence of Subtype Classification, is referenced in the Journal of Neurosurgery.

The role of the visual system

According to Dr. Ghajar, the eyes and the visual system play an essential role in understanding the nature, cause and treatment for a concussion.

Examination of the eyes, specifically the oculo-motor functioning, includes the evaluation of binocular vision, eye focusing, eye teaming, and visual perception skills.

Any type of oculo-motor or visual dysfunction can result in difficulty acquiring, understanding, and processing visual stimuli.

A visual system dysfunction can trigger or worsen visual symptoms following a brain injury, and lead to an impaired ability to interpret and  process visual information.

Oculo-motor impairments may be identified and measured by assessing specific visual skills, including:

  • Saccades
  • Smooth pursuit
  • Conjugate gaze
  • Convergence
  • Accommodation
  • Fixation assessments

An ocular-motor deficit can appear similar to a functional cognitive impairment and is frequently diagnosed in conjunction with symptoms of a vestibular dysfunction.

If you had an an brain injury, contact an eye doctor near you, who can diagnose and treat any undiagnosed visual problems.

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Symptoms of oculo-motor dysfunction

Patients diagnosed with oculo-motor dysfunction typically display difficulty concentrating or focusing during near vision tasks as a result of:

  • Impaired near vision
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Photophobia
  • Eye strain or fatigue
  • Impaired depth perception
  • Difficulty shifting focus between distances
  • Headaches or pain/pressure behind the eyes
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety in crowded or visually complex environments
  • Significant worsening of pre-existing visual impairments

This new discovery, that the visual system plays a critical role in the diagnosis and treatment of concussions, will help doctors to understand the extent and severity of a brain injury. 

What to do next?

If you know someone who has recently suffered a concussion, it is essential that they be examined by an eye doctor who has experience in treating oculo-motor and visual dysfunction following a brain injury.

LEARN MORE:  Guide to Neuro-Optometry

Schedule an appointment with an eye doctor for a comprehensive eye exam, and to discuss any questions you may have about treating an eye condition.

A comprehensive assessment of the visual system is the first step to recovering clear and comfortable vision for all aspects of daily life.