Veterans and civilians alike struggle with vision function and other problems after a traumatic brain injury.

Veterans must often overcome excruciating emotional and physical pain when they return to civilian life. Sometimes the damage is obvious, but other times much less so, hurting the body from the inside-out.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an all-too-common battlefield ailment, and one that needs to be examined thoroughly for a multitude of side effects. A study published this week in Optometry and Vision Science details the devastating effects of traumatic brain injury, in terms of visual symptoms and abnormal vision function, and urges those affected by TBI to undergo a proper examination to assess the damage.

A traumatic brain injury can occur in several ways. The study authors compared Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffering from blast-related TBI (from mines, explosive devices, etc.) to patients with non-blast related TBI (like one would experience after being in a car crash). While the aim of the study was to diagnose the rate of vision problems in blast-related versus non blast-related TBI, vision impairment was present in both groups.

The TBI patients had both vision problems and difficulty reading. Light sensitivity was more prevalent in cases of blast-related TBI, and saccadic dysfunction (fast, shifting eye movements) were more common in non blast-related cases.

The study authors identified a range of visual symptoms among the injured vets, including:

  • vision dysfunction, likely caused by damage to the central nervous system, which affected both patient groups
  • strabismus (crossed eyes)
  • saccadic (eye movement) dysfunction
  • oculomotor (eye movement nerve) dysfunction
  • reading problems, complaints, and deficits
  • blurred vision
  • vergence (when the eyes move in opposite directions)

TBI doesn’t just affect those on the battlefield. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on average, 1.7 million people experience a traumatic brain injury in the United States each year. “TBI can take place in any setting and can happen to anyone,” according to the study authors.

You can take simple precautions to help ensure that you’re protected against TBI. But no matter how the injury occurs, brain examination after the fact is crucial.

“Because of the high prevalence of subjective visual complaints and oculomotor dysfunctions in the TBI patients in the current study, as well as in previous studies, a comprehensive vision examination should be conducted after brain injury, regardless of injury type or severity,” the researchers advise.

To protect yourself and your family from injury:

  • Wear appropriate head protection when playing sports or in places where objects may fall, such as construction sites.
  • Take necessary precautions and follow instructions during natural disasters. Take cover and protect your head from explosions and their secondary effects, including shrapnel and glass.
  • Non-blast TBI is common in collisions such as car accidents. Always wear your seatbelt to stay in place in the event of a crash.