Of the five basic human senses, sight is our primary sense. We take in most of our information about the world around us using our vision. Vision helps orient our bodies in space, and helps keep us upright and balanced so we don’t fall over. We also use vision and depth perception to judge distances as we move through space.
Imagine that your depth perception is faulty or that you sense a slight shadowing or doubling of everything you look at. These poor visual cues can cause you to feel uncomfortable as your body moves through space, producing anxiety.
The six eye muscles attached to each eye each have different jobs. One job is to keep the images produced by each eye superimposed, so you do not see double. No one’s eyes are perfectly aligned, and the muscles are continually working to keep the images from each eye perfectly together. Typically, the eye misalignment is small and is missed in a routine eye exam.
Another function of the eye muscles is to send signals to the vestibular (ear) system to inform your brain that your body is moving through a stationary world. If you turn your head to the side, the eyes move in the opposite direction. This is called the vestibular ocular reflex. If those eye muscles are straining to keep the images aligned, over time, they start to shake and quiver. The shaking image is sensed by the brain, which conflicts with the signals coming from the vestibular system, causing a lightheaded, dizzy feeling. When the brain senses these conflicting signals, it does not feel safe in the environment.
Some patients have a form of binocular vision dysfunction that is worse with distance tasks. These people can get very anxious when they are driving. This can start to happen without warning as a person gets closer to middle age. The eye muscles have been under strain for many years and are getting tired.
Other patients have a type of binocular vision dysfunction that is worse with near tasks. These patients often describe feeling very uncomfortable when looking at another person who is close to them. This uncomfortable feeling can be difficult to describe, but the patient usually states that they have to look away, or they start to panic.
It is common for both types of patients to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Unfortunately, medications for anxiety can increase the problem due to side effects, which decrease visual function. Patients then often withdraw from social functions, school, or work and become agoraphobic.
The good news is that with the proper diagnosis, aligning eyeglass lenses using micro prisms can relax the eye muscles. The quivering of the muscles starts to decrease, leading to a reduction in conflicting signals from the visual and vestibular systems. As the eyes relax, the symptoms of anxiety start to fade. Over time, our patients resume driving, go back to work or school, and lead full, happy lives. If you think that your eyes may cause your anxiety, take the short questionnaire here on our website.