How Do Brain Tumors Affect the Eyes
Brain tumors can cause vision changes such as blurred vision, double vision, abnormal eye movements, squinting, and restricted field of vision

Brain tumors can cause vision changes such as blurred vision, double vision, abnormal eye movements, squinting, and restricted field of vision.

However, brain tumors are rare, which means that most eye problems are caused by conditions unrelated to brain tumors.

What vision changes can be caused by brain tumors?

Brain tumors can lead to vision changes such as:

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Narrowing of your field of vision
  • Blind spots
  • Difficulty controlling eye movements
  • Unusual eye movements such as flickering of the eyes
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Head tilt (caused by trying to see things out of the corner of the eye)
  • Sudden blurring of vision that may be triggered by coughing or bending down
  • Proptosis (bulging of the eyes)
  • Loss of vision

In most people, initial ocular symptoms are progressive loss of vision with or without damage to the optic nerve. Some tumors may cause acute visual loss as the presenting symptom.

While there are many potential causes for eye-related problems, symptoms that occur suddenly may indicate a blood clot or infections such as meningitis or encephalitis.

Consult your doctor regarding your symptoms. If a brain tumor is suspected, your doctor can order tests and devise an appropriate treatment plan.

What types of brain tumors affect the eyes?

The three most common types of brain tumors in adults that can cause vision problems include:

  • Pituitary adenoma: Can cause a type of partial blindness in which vision is lost in the outer half of both the right and left visual field (bitemporal hemianopia)
  • Meningioma: Can cause partial or complete loss of vision in one eye; other symptoms may include blurred or double vision
  • Craniopharyngioma: Can cause a defect in the visual field and an initial decrease in visual acuity (ability of the eye to identify shapes and the details of objects at a given distance)

How do brain tumors cause eye problems?

Brain tumors can cause vision problems as pressure is exerted on certain areas of the brain:

  • Occipital lobe: Part of your brain responsible for processing what you see. Tumors in this region of the brain can lead to several vision problems.
  • Brain stem: Tumors in this area could result in double vision.
  • Neural connections: If the tumor invades any of the neural connections between your eyes and your occipital lobe, it can cause blind spots.
  • Optic nerve: If the tumor exerts pressure on your optic nerve or causes the optic disc (back of the eye) to swell (papilledema), it can lead to vision loss and even blindness as the tumor grows.

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What are other symptoms of brain tumor?

Symptoms of brain tumors depend on their location. Besides vision problems, other common symptoms of brain tumors may include:

How are brain tumors diagnosed and treated?

If you have vision changes caused by a brain tumor, your ophthalmologist may be the first to diagnose it. Tests that may be ordered include:

  • Refractive error screening and checkup for intraocular pressure
  • Neurological exam to check your visual reflexes, hearing, balance, coordination, strength, and reflexes
  • Imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography, and positron emission tomography to help assess the tumor
  • Biopsy, which involves collecting and testing a sample of brain tumor tissue and can be performed as part of surgery to remove the brain tumor

Your doctors will plan treatment based on the type, size, and location of the brain tumor as well as your overall health.

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Medically Reviewed on 2/16/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Images

Mayo Clinic. Brain tumor. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/brain-tumor/symptoms-causes/syc-20350084

Sefi-Yurdakul N. Visual findings as primary manifestations in patients with intracranial tumors. Int J Ophthalmol. 2015; 8(4): 800-803. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26309882/

The Brain Tumour Charity. Changes in vision. https://www.thebraintumourcharity.org/brain-tumour-signs-symptoms/adult-brain-tumour-symptoms/changes-vision/

Brain Tumour Research. Brain tumor research. https://www.braintumourresearch.org/info-support/symptoms-of-a-brain-tumour

Moffitt Cancer Center. Can Brain Tumors Affect Your Vision? https://moffitt.org/cancers/brain-tumor/symptoms/eye-problems/