It was spring semester of my first year of optometry school when I started to develop headaches after a few hours of studying. At first I attributed it to lack of sleep or dehydration, but when I couldn’t bear to look at my computer after only two hours, I began to suspect something else was wrong.
I thought back to the times when microscopes made me nauseous and how tired I would feel after a full day of lectures, and it all began to piece together. After reaching out to a professor for advice, I scheduled my first sensorimotor exam at The Ohio State University College of Optometry.
Sensorimotor exams extensively test the accommodation and vergence systems of our vision, both individually and together. These systems control how our eyes work to see objects as single and clear. The exam is long and I definitely felt fatigued by the end, but my doctor and the fourth-year intern had an answer. The diagnosis: “paresis of accommodation,” or accommodative insufficiency – a relatively common binocular vision disorder. I was prescribed vision therapy at home and advised to use reading glasses when performing near work for extended periods.
As I started using my reading glasses, I noticed an immediate effect. I could work on my computer all day without headaches! I felt like I could accomplish so much more in one day.
Curious, I reached out to Catherine McDaniel, O.D., M.S., chief of Binocular Vision and Pediatric Services at Ohio State. She reports our clinic sees 10-20 percent of the optometry student population each year for sensorimotor exams. Students schedule an exam for three main reasons:
1. Asthenopia (eyestrain and headaches) with the increased academic load not previously experienced in undergraduate education
2. Inability to fuse when using microscopes/slit lamps or BIOs (Binocular Indirect Ophthalmoscopes)
3. Abnormal finding(s) found while practicing clinical skills
Treatments for students who experience these symptoms can be as easy as prism or added lenses, and others are prescribed vision therapy. “I’m always amazed that even after learning about asthenopia and symptoms of BV conditions students are still surprised we can make their symptoms go away with treatment,” said Dr. McDaniel. “They still have that ‘I always just thought everyone saw things that way’ train of thought. If you’re having asthenopic symptoms, don’t wait! There’s no reason to suffer, especially if it is keeping you from putting in the time necessary to succeed in optometry school.”
I wholeheartedly agree. If you apply the above statistic to the number of students AOSA represents, that means anywhere from 650 to 1,300 students are experiencing symptoms of a binocular vision disorder! If you think you’re one of these students, schedule an exam at your optometry school or a local practice that offers binocular vision care.
And do it sooner rather than later. Optometry school is a marathon; you need to have all your tools, including your vision, in the best shape possible in order to succeed.
This article first appeared in AOSA’s Foresight Magazine, Spring 2017