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Sport Vision
Post-concussion light sensitivity: causes & treatments  
March 29, 2018 | by Katie Grill-Donovan

For those who have experienced any type of head trauma that results in a concussion or post-concussion syndrome, you probably are well aware that there can be numerous vision-related problems that result.

Vision symptoms are a frequent side effect of a concussion. In fact, studies have found that vision problems may affect 69% to 82% of concussed patients, regardless of age.

Among adolescents, nearly half had been clinically diagnosed with more than one eye symptom as result of their concussion.1-2

The most common eye problems include:

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Sensitivity to light and photophobia
  • Reduced peripheral vision
  • Eye or ocular pain
  • Abnormal eye movements & eye tracking
  • Visual motion sensitivity

Of these symptoms, light sensitivity is one of the top three reported symptoms amongst the patient we see here at Fortius Sport & Health.

Not only is light sensitivity one of the more common symptoms among chronic post-concussion patients, it also seems to be the one that hangs around the longest after a concussion.

Causes

While the anatomical sources of light sensitivity are relatively unknown, researchers have theorized that the force of the trauma can cause displacement, irritation, or injury in several pain-sensitive brain related structures.3

You can also think of it as if one had a radio and the volume control was broken and you could not make the adjustments you normally do to control loudness.

When your brain does not have the ability to adjust to various levels of brightness and different wavelengths of light, symptoms such as eye pain/pressure, fatigue, headache/migraine, difficulty concentrating, and dizziness can occur.

Treatments

There are several ways to address post-concussion light sensitivity:

  • Post-Concussion Vision Exams
  • Modifying your environment & electronics
  • Special glasses/contact lens tints

Post-Concussion Vision Exams

During a Post-Concussion Vision exam, your Optometrist will assess over 20 different visual skills (ocular-motor movements, depth perception, accommodation, vergence, peripheral awareness, etc) to determine if we can improve your visual performance and take some stress off your system.

Often, we find that by improving how your visual system is functioning (either through a more exact prescription, different lenses, or Vision Therapy sessions), patients can experience a decrease in their light sensitivity.

Modifying your environment & electronics

Once your visual skills are assessed and optimized, it is important to look at how you can alter your environment to help with your light sensitivity. Contrary to popular belief, laying in a dark room all day is not the most effective treatment and it sure doesn’t feed the soul!

Here are a few ways to change your surroundings to help with light sensitivity:

  • Remove fluorescent lights from areas where you work on a regular basis. If that’s not possible, try diffusing them with tube sleeves or substituting with warm lamp light. Installing dimming switches can also help
  • If natural light is more tolerable, see if they can relocate your workspace to a part of the office with windows.
  • Purchase an anti-glare cover for your monitor.
  • Get permission to wear a hat during the day, even if it’s not typically part of the dress code at work.
  • When working on the computer or watching TV, make sure the illumination of the screen is the same as the background (ie. watching TV with dim lighting is better than in complete darkness).

When it comes to technology, there are a couple helpful apps out there:

  • Install F.lux on your PC or Macbook.
  • If you have an Apple smartphone, turn “Nightshift” on. There are also several blue-light filter apps for those without an Apple phone.

Tints for lenses & contact lenses

Last but not least, there are several companies that produce wave-length specific glasses. These glasses are intended to block the portion of the light spectrum that patients are the most sensitive to.

We’ve found that these tints, combined with the correct prescription, can make a significant difference when it comes to light sensitivity. During our vision exams, we explore a variety of different tints to see which one could work best for you.

At Fortius Sport and Health we examine and discuss each of these treatment options in our Comprehensive Post-Concussion Vision Exams. To book an appointment, please call our Performance Vision Department at 604-292-2501.

References:

1 Gallaway M, Scheiman M, Mitchell GL. Vision Therapy for Post-Concussion Vision Disorders. Optom Vis Sci. 2017 Jan;94(1):68-73. doi: 10.1097/OPX.0000000000000935.

2 Master CL, Scheiman M, Gallaway M, Goodman A, Robinson RL, Master SR, Grady MF. Vision Diagnoses Are Common After Concussion in Adolescents. Clin Pediatr (Phila). 2016 Mar;55(3):260-7. doi: 10.1177/0009922815594367. Epub 2015 Jul 7.

3 Digre KB, Brennan KC. Shedding Light on Photophobia. Journal of neuro-ophthalmology : the official journal of the North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society. 2012;32(1):68-81. doi:10.1097/WNO.0b013e3182474548.