What is visual stress and disturbance?
Visual stress and disturbances can be caused by acquired and traumatic brain injuries, mild to severe. It can also be caused by neurologic disorders, like Multiple Sclerosis, or even with age-related changes.
Symptoms of visual stress and disturbances include:
- Eye strain
- Blurry and/or double vision
- Difficulty reading, watching TV, or using a computer
- Words or letters appearing to move or jump on the page
- Words or letters appearing jumbled
- Sensitivity to lights
- Difficulties with depth perception
The Impact on Function
Visual stress and disturbances can have a significant impact on a person’s day-to-day life.
Symptoms, like double vision, headaches, and difficulties with depth perception, can affect all areas of a person’s life, making it hard to do basic tasks like driving, getting dressed, working, and participating in sports. It can pretty much impact all self-care, productive, and leisure activities.
It can also be hard for people to walk or run because vision plays such an important role in our ability to move around in space.
Visual stress and disturbance can really be very debilitating.
How to Cope
The best thing that someone can do is pace activities that cause visual stress. For example, if reading causes more headaches, then reading should be done in blocks of time. Or, someone might find that taking breaks from computer work helps stop symptoms from getting too intense.
Sometimes symptoms will ebb and flow over the course of the day. It may make more sense for a person to do more activities in the morning if this is when they are feeling more rested and less symptomatic.
There are also professionals who can provide support, treatment, and coping strategies for people who have visual stress. Consult your doctor, a neuro-ophthalmologist, or an occupational therapist, like me, who have specialized skills in vision therapy.
What does treatment of visual stress look like?
The goal of treatment is to reduce symptoms and improve function. Treatment involves a combination of compensatory techniques and rehabilitative or neuroplasticity interventions. While treating someone with visual stress or disturbance, I would also recommend devices, adaptive strategies, and adapting and modifying someone’s environment. Education on pacing can also play a key role in symptom reduction.
Active treatment can include all kinds of things, and are tailored to meet a client’s goals and work within their symptoms. Treatment may include paper and pencil exercises, visual scanning exercises, and others that encourage people’s eyes to work together.
Depending on the client’s need, I may also develop occupation-based exercises and activities to help people get back to what they want to do.
Visual stress and disturbance can cause people to feel isolated and alone. But it’s important to remember that there are treatment options, and professionals, like me, who can help.