Vision Changes

Key Points:

  • The visual system is complex since visual information is important to everyday functions such as reading, playing sports, and enjoying electronics.
  • After a concussion, it is common to have vision symptoms for a few days or even weeks. This is usually not due an injury to the eye, but due to the vision processing in your brain not working properly.
  • If symptoms don’t improve, we recommend you see your doctor and get referred for special eye assessments. Using the self care tips above can also make life easier in the meantime.

What is ‘the visual system’?

Most of us take the act of seeing the world around us for granted. If you have near perfect vision, you may have never really thought about the complex processes that go on in order for you to see your computer screen, watch TV, or even watching the puck during hockey. We usually only get more curious about vision if it’s not working well for us.

So here is a simple way to think about our visual system:

We know we see with our eyes. However, that’s only a small part of the visual system. Our eyes are like a camera recording visual information. From there, that information has to be processed to make sense. That part is done in our brain. The brain is like a computer. It takes the pictures from the camera and sorts them according to priority of interest and importance. Unimportant information is deleted before it even comes to your awareness. Then the information gets sorted according to its meaningfulness and need for response.

For example: if you are playing hockey, it is important for you to see the puck, the players around you, and the goal. Your brain will likely filter out the spectators, the advertising, or any other irrelevant information. The brain will also compute the speed, direction, and likely course of the puck, and tell your muscles to move to where you think the puck will be in the next 2-3 seconds. All that goes on without you being aware of it at all. Your body, with experience, just goes into the right direction at the right speed to hit the puck.

The visual system is complex and after a concussion, it often doesn’t work perfectly.

"My vision isn’t the same since I had my concussion."

Following a concussion, it is common for your vision to not feel the same because your brain got jolted. Usually this occurs right after the concussion and goes away after 24-48 hours, but for some teenagers, visual problems persist.

The most common symptoms people notice after concussion are:
  • Blurry vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Difficulty focusing on a page or computer
  • Difficulty reading, you may skip lines or words
  • Feeling motion sick when you see a busy pattern on a screen, scrolling fast on the computer, or driving along a busy street
  • Double vision
  • Feeling you cannot take in the meaning of what you read any longer
  • Feeling very tired after reading or screen time

Your symptoms could affect your ability to watch TV, work on your computer, read, balance, catch a ball, or be in a room with bright lights. Visual symptoms are likely to improve over the first days to weeks. Because our lives are so dependent on vision activities, you will likely find these symptoms quite annoying and tiring.

What can you do?

Try some short-term strategies while your visual system is healing. These tips are likely not needed long-term, but can be definitely helpful while you are feeling more symptomatic.

Add to My Recovery Plan 📒

Here are some common strategies that many teenagers find helpful. You can chose the one that you would like to add to your personalized Recovery Plan.

As you improve, you and your health care team can help you gradually expose yourself to light and screens, which is helpful to your recovery. It is also common for other concussion symptoms, such as poor sleep, headaches/neck pain, and mood/anxiety issues to make your vision difficulties worse.

Who can help you?

  1. See your family doctor and describe your vision problems.
  2. An optometrist can check the health of your eye (camera system).
  3. There are specialized neuro-optometrists who may assess and treat both the camera system and the computer system of vision.
  4. There are specially trained physiotherapists that may work with you to recalibrate your visual system or to assist with returning to function.
  5. Your therapists may give you eye exercises or prescribe special glasses to help you recover.

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