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Understanding Ophthalmoplegia

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Ophthalmoplegia is an eye condition that's characterised by muscle weakness or paralysis of one or more of the muscles that are required to move your eye. Ophthalmoplegia can be referred to as external or internal. External ophthalmoplegia causes your eyelids to droop and affects the muscles responsible for eye coordination. Internal ophthalmoplegia causes double vision due to nerve damage affecting muscles at the back of your eyes. Here's what you need to know about ophthalmoplegia:

Causes And Symptoms

Ophthalmoplegia generally occurs as a result of the communication pathway between the brain and the eyes being disrupted by an underlying health condition. It's not always possible to know what has caused an individual to develop this condition, but common causes of either type of ophthalmoplegia include thyroid disease, infection, migraines, brain tumour and stroke. Causes specific to external ophthalmoplegia include Graves' disease or any form of mitochondrial disease, while internal ophthalmoplegia can be caused by trauma or multiple sclerosis.

Symptoms of ophthalmoplegia include visual disturbances, the eyes appearing out of sync and restricted eye movement, which can prevent sufferers looking in a certain direction without turning their head. Some people with the condition also experience eye pain and headaches.

Diagnosis And Treatment Approach

Your optometrist can spot signs of ophthalmoplegia during a routine eye test, and if this condition is suspected, you will be referred for diagnostic imaging, such as an MRI or CT scan, to try and determine the underlying cause. Your doctor will carry out a thorough examination, including taking your blood pressure and blood samples, to determine if you have an infection, inflammation or a thyroid issue.

Treatment for ophthalmoplegia focuses on addressing the underlying cause of the condition. You may require antibiotics to treat an infection or surgery to correct a muscle imbalance or remove a tumour. Some sufferers can find relief from visual disturbances by using an eye patch to strengthen their eye muscles or wearing glasses with a prism, which is a small piece of glass that's attached to the lens of the glasses. A prism changes the angle light enters the eye, so if misalignment due to weak muscles is causing you to experience blurred vision, the prism corrects the blurred vision by ensuring the retina at the back of the eye receives light at the best angle for clear vision. Additionally, if you have a known health condition that has contributed to you developing ophthalmoplegia, you will be referred to your specialist to ensure your current medication is working as it should. 

If you are experiencing symptoms associated with ophthalmoplegia, or if you're overdue an eye test, schedule an appointment with your optometrist as soon as possible.