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You may not be able to tell if someone has schizophrenia just by looking at their eyes. But certain characteristics and behaviors of a person’s eyes are associated with this mental health condition.

Eye symptoms like a fixed gaze, along with other indications, may point to some types of schizophrenia. A mental health professional can sometimes use these symptoms to determine if a person has this condition.

Read on for an explanation of eye movements and characteristics related to schizophrenia and why they happen.

Visual changes are very common in people who have schizophrenia. Common changes can include:

Nystagmus

If you live with schizophrenia, you might experience involuntary, repetitive eye movements. This is known as nystagmus, which may be a side effect of some medications or caused by atypical characteristics in your:

  • optic tract (eye nerves in your brain)
  • brain
  • inner ear

Your eyes might move:

  • side to side
  • up and down
  • in a circular pattern

Smooth pursuit eye movements (SPEM)

People with schizophrenia and their relatives may experience atypical eye movements when following a moving object. Research suggests that unusual SPEM can occur in 50 to 85 percent of people with schizophrenia.

Strabismus

Also known as “crossed eyes,” strabismus occurs when your eyes are not looking in the same direction. In most cases, one eye turns in more than the other, but one eye may turn out as well. Strabismus is associated with schizophrenia.

Impaired visual acuity

Visual acuity describes the sharpness of a person’s vision. People with schizophrenia have lower visual acuity. Psychiatric medications may affect your vision.

Corneal temperature

Someone with schizophrenia may have a significantly higher corneal temperature.

Increased blink rate

People with schizophrenia often blink faster than people without this mental health condition.

Atypical retinal characteristics

The retina is a thin layer of tissue lining the back of the eye. Individuals with schizophrenia may have atypical structural characteristics of their retinas.

Visual processing impairments

Visual processing involves interpreting things you see. Impairment in visual processing is also common in people with schizophrenia. These impairments can include:

  • difficulties in contrast sensitivity, the abilkity to see varying shades of light and dark
  • difficulty with form and motion processing, the ability to process speed and movement in objects
  • visual distortions, objects may look bent or wavy

You may not be able to tell if someone has schizophrenia just by looking at their eyes. You might notice an atypical gaze or stare, but you will not be able to tell if a person has schizophrenia from that alone.

There are a variety of symptoms of schizophrenia. Symptoms are typically grouped into two categories: positive and negative.

The categorization reflects activity in your brain. Increased activity in specific brain areas causes positive symptoms, and decreased activity of other areas causes negative symptoms.

Positive symptoms respond well to therapeutic medications. These symptoms can include:

Negative symptoms do not respond as well to medications. These symptoms might include:

  • lack of desire for social contact
  • trouble or inability to feel pleasure
  • difficulty functioning

Medical professionals are not sure exactly what causes eye changes in people with schizophrenia. But some research suggests that genetics play a role. Specific genes like RGS4 and the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene are associated with schizophrenia and changes in a person’s eye tracking.

Eye inflammation may also be linked to schizophrenia. People with this mental health condition sometimes have elevated blood markers of inflammation, which suggests that an infection might be causing some of these eye symptoms.

Researchers have also found changes in chromosome 6 in some people with schizophrenia. This chromosome is involved in the immune response, and changes in this chromosome may affect how an individual responds to infection and the level of inflammation in their body.

Individuals with schizophrenia may show symptoms of atypical characteristics in parts of their brain during visual processing tasks. These characteristics can affect input to their visual system.

More research is needed to find out possible causes of eye changes associated with schizophrenia.

Eye changes in people with schizophrenia may be related to several factors.

Widening of small veins in the retinas, known as the retinal venules, may cause symptoms of psychosis in childhood and adulthood. Experiencing visual distortions may also indicate that a person has a mental health condition.

If you have schizophrenia, the fluctuations of dopamine that occur in your brain might also occur in your retina. This can affect your visual processing and eye movement.

Medical professionals need more research to determine the full risk factors for eye changes in people with schizophrenia. If you have concerns, talk with your doctor and contact an eye specialist. They can do an eye exam and provide you with appropriate treatments and assistance if needed.

There’s no cure for schizophrenia, but a mental health professional can help you manage this condition.

You may receive a variety of treatments to help with your symptoms. Your treatment team can talk with you and determine the best treatment for your situation and symptoms.

Treatments can include:

  • medication
  • therapy or social skills training
  • vocational rehabilitation, or job skills training
  • inpatient hospital care

Sometimes people pursue complementary medication like vitamins and supplements, but it’s always best to speak with your doctor before doing so. Your doctor can let you know if this method will interfere with any medications you’re taking and whether it’s safe to try.

Treating eye-related symptoms

While there’s no specific treatment for eye symptoms related to schizophrenia, a medical professional can help diagnose and treat any underlying infection and associated inflammation related to atypical eye characteristics.

While a mental health professional can’t cure schizophrenia, they can help you manage it. With proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment, your symptoms may decrease.

The exact outlook can vary, depending on the seriousness of your schizophrenia and whether you follow your treatment plan. With medication, counseling, and social support, you can reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

People with schizophrenia may have structural eye changes and movements.

Although experienced mental health professionals may add these symptoms to their clinical observations, they can’t diagnose schizophrenia in a person based on these characteristics alone.

If you have schizophrenia and are experiencing visual symptoms, talk with your doctor and contact an eye specialist. They will be able to do an exam and let you know how they can help you.