Evyn was an excellent student who considered school easy before suffering a concussion at the age of 13 while playing soccer. After the injury, Evyn struggled to achieve the same level of success, finding it difficult to take notes from the board, needing to read and re-read material, and taking extra time to complete her homework and tests. Turns out, Evyn’s concussion caused something called “convergence insufficiency,” an eye coordination disorder that leads to double vision and other visual disturbances that make reading difficult. Evynsuffered with near-constant spots in her vision, headaches, and her eyes didn’t work well together.These side effects aren’t surprising to eye experts, who know that vision therapy is essential to complete concussion recovery.
“Research has shown that approximately 70 percent of young athletes who suffer a concussion have eye coordination, focusing, and eye movement problems,” says Dr. Kara Heying, OD, FCOVD, president of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development. “Yet most parents are left on their own to choose a health care professional who can help their child correct these problems.” And, in many cases, parents aren’t going to immediately take their child to visit an optometrist for a head injury. They are more likely toseeneurologists, physical therapists, pediatricians, and sports medicine specialists, but it’s a developmental optometrist who is one of the most critical members of a teen’s concussion recovery team.
Understanding the Importance of Vision Therapy
Concussions and TBIs can cause unique forms of vision problems, including eye coordination issues and eye movement disorders.When a teen develops a concussion, whether through a sports injury, car accident, fall, or otherwise, treatment should include vision therapy.
Part of the prescription for managing a concussion in general is to rest your eyes in a dark room and to avoid taxing activities like reading a book, watching television, or using a computer or smartphone. But you’re not expected to sleep away your recovery – even though it might seem like that’s all there is left to do. Vision rehabilitation can be active, not passive.
“The traditional vision approach still relies on the spontaneous recovery of double vision, patching, and using therapies to learn functional approaches around vision deficits, as opposed to treating the vision deficits,” says Heying.“However, many optometrists across our nation are providing optometric vision therapy in addition to therapeutic lenses and prisms to help resolve visual deficits.”
What Vision Therapy Includes
The goal of vision therapy, especially for more severe head injuries, can aid a person in self-correcting their double vision problems, find their balance, and strengthen their equilibrium. Under the care and supervision of an optometrist who is experienced in treating concussion-related vision problems and has the specialized tools and medical equipment to monitor progress, the patient will undergo a progressive program of vision procedures that are customized to fit their visual needs. The sessions are typically conducted in the eye doctor’s office once or twice a week and last for 30 to 60 minutes. Supplemental exercises may be prescribed so treatment can continue at home in between office visits.
Optometric vision therapy isn’t about strengthening eye muscles, which are already very strong. This specific therapy is intended to retrain the learned aspects of vision through neuroplasticity, which is the potential that a person’s brain has to create neural pathways to adapt to a person’s needs, especially after the trauma of a head injury.
About: David Christensen is a personal injury attorney who represents clients that have suffered traumatic brain injuries. Christensen Law has offices in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Southfield, Michigan.