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This type of blindness is a disorder where damage to the brain prevents normal vision. With this condition, you may experience varying degrees of sight. Total improvement is not guaranteed, even with therapy.

Cortical vision impairment (CVI) is the leading cause of vision loss among children in the United States. These types of vision problems occur due to processing problems in the brain, not defects in the eyes themselves.

While CVI is less frequently seen in adults, the condition can affect individuals of all ages. Getting a proper CVI diagnosis can be difficult, but it opens doors for visual rehabilitation and support options.

This article will explain what cortical blindness is, why it’s more common in children, and how it can be diagnosed so that you can receive proper treatment and management.

CVI is a condition where the brain has trouble processing and understanding signals sent from the eyes.

Those with CVI have difficulty seeing for reasons that can’t be explained by problems with the eyes. It’s also sometimes called cerebral visual impairment.

Normally, the eyes send electrical signals to the brain, which are turned into the images you see. However, depending on where the brain has been affected, people with CVI may have loss of vision, dimness of vision, or a defect in their visual field.

Incomplete cortical blindness is much more common than complete blindness.

Signs of CVI in young children can include:

  • distinct color preferences
  • preferences for looking at lights and the sun (or they may be extremely sensitive to light)
  • problems recognizing faces or objects
  • difficulty with unfamiliar visual stimuli
  • preferences for certain head positions when viewing objects

Adults with CVI may have:

  • better vision when viewing moving objects as opposed to stationary objects
  • a delayed visual response
  • better visual responses for near objects than for distant objects
  • difficulty with complex visual groupings and environments
  • other disabilities like cerebral palsy, epilepsy, or hearing loss

CVI is often caused by an injury to the brain.

It can also be caused by:

  • a lack of oxygen or blood to the brain (frequently due to a stroke)
  • fluid buildup in the brain or hydrocephalus
  • seizures
  • an infection that reaches the brain
  • certain genetic conditions

CVI is most common in babies and young children, but it can also develop in adults. Premature babies are more likely than full-term babies to have CVI.

Adult CVI can develop after a traumatic brain injury, such as a head injury or stroke. War veterans may be at higher risk of vision problems due to combat injuries.

There’s no cure for CVI.

In children, new connections can form as the brain matures, helping them to overcome an initial injury or deficit. For some, this could mean that their CVI will improve. Vision therapy can also help people make the most of their vision.

Some people affected by CVI can get better in time on their own for reasons that are not fully understood. A 2020 study used alarming visual stimuli to try to anticipate recovery from cortical blindness, but much more research into why recovery does or does not happen is still needed.

The cause of cortical blindness should be addressed first if possible. For example, a stroke should be treated to prevent additional problems.

As soon as possible, an individual should undergo visual training and rehabilitation.

Three types of treatment include:

  • Restitution therapy: This is used to recover visual field deficits. A participant will detect multiple light spots on a black screen across blind and normal visual fields.
  • Compensation therapy: This helps people to compensate for vision loss by using saccadic (small, rapid, jerky) eye movements. This allows people to capture images that would otherwise fall into a blind part of their vision field.
  • Substitution therapy: This uses prisms or other devices to project images that would fall into the blind side of the visual field to an area where they can be seen.

It’s important to note that people with cortical blindness can also have other vision problems that impact the eye itself. In these cases, glasses or eye muscle surgery may actually help to improve their vision.

The doctor who diagnoses you or your child with CVI may be able to offer referrals for vision rehabilitation. You may also wish to check with your insurance provider to see which medical professionals are covered.

  • School-aged children with CVI will typically need educational support. Parents may need to work with educators at their child’s school to create an individualized education plan (IEP) that outlines what resources will be offered and how frequently.
  • Parents of children with cortical visual impairment can also benefit from joining Facebook groups like Thinking Outside the Light-Box, which provide ideas and inspiration.
  • Lighthouse Guild (formerly The Jewish Guild for the Blind) offers telephone support groups for parents with children who have CVI.
  • Therapy can help people with CVI and their caregivers process their feelings. If this isn’t available locally, organizations like BetterHelp offer it remotely.

Visual processing problems in the brain cause people with CVI to experience decreased vision. CVI may be the result of a traumatic brain injury, an infection that reaches the brain, cerebral hypoxia, premature birth, or certain genetic conditions.