Double Vision (Diplopia)

  • Medical Author:
    Patricia S. Bainter, MD

    Dr. Bainter is a board-certified ophthalmologist. She received her BA from Pomona College in Claremont, CA, and her MD from the University of Colorado in Denver, CO. She completed an internal medicine internship at St. Joseph Hospital in Denver, CO, followed by an ophthalmology residency and a cornea and external disease fellowship, both at the University of Colorado. She became board certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology in 1998 and recertified in 2008. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Dr. Bainter practices general ophthalmology including cataract surgery and management of corneal and anterior segment diseases. She has volunteered in eye clinics in the Dominican Republic and Bosnia. She currently practices at One to One Eye Care in San Diego, CA.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What is the treatment for double vision?

Once the underlying cause has been determined, treatment is tailored to the underlying condition.

Diplopia stemming from refractive errors (myopia, hyperopia, astigmatism) can be corrected with glasses or contact lenses. Dry eyes are treated with artificial tears, punctal plugs, warm compresses, and a variety of other treatments. Cataracts are removed with surgery, and posterior capsule opacification (after cataract surgery) is treated with laser. It is uncommon for the cause of monocular diplopia to be a medical emergency.

Binocular diplopia on the other hand can be caused by life-threatening conditions, and emergency treatment may be necessary. This is particularly the case with aneurysms, head trauma, stroke, and other neurologic conditions. Any onset of diplopia with accompanying neurologic symptoms such as headache, nausea, dizziness, loss of balance, etc., should be evaluated immediately.

Diplopia produced by chronic diseases (see causes above) may subside with treatment of the underlying disease. If eye muscles are engorged (such as from Graves' disease) or entrapped (as after traumatic orbital fracture), surgery of the muscles or surrounding tissue may correct the problem.

Convergence insufficiency, or inability to align the eyes when focusing on a near object, is a common benign cause of intermittent binocular diplopia when reading. It can improve with eye exercises ("pencil pushups" prescribed by the eye doctor).

Often glasses with prisms can be worn to correct binocular diplopia. If the diplopia is expected to resolve, temporary prisms (Fresnel prisms) can be added to glasses and later removed when the eyes realign.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/26/2016

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