By Beth W. Orenstein.
Many people diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) also experience problems with their vision. Doctors believe that these vision-related chronic fatigue symptoms stem from brain dysfunction more than eye dysfunction. The signals that the brain sends to the eyes to let you know where you are and what you’re seeing may not be functioning properly when you have chronic fatigue syndrome.
Vision Problems and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: It’s All a Blur
Most often, patients report having periods where everything appears blurry or seems foggy. “This will happen most commonly when they stand up and get lightheaded,” says Peter Rowe, MD, director of the Chronic Fatigue Clinic at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore.
Other vision problems that chronic fatigue syndrome patients report include:
- Difficulty or slowness in focusing on objects, usually those that are close up
- Not being able to see objects in side or peripheral vision — some say they feel as though they have tunnel vision
- Feeling dizzy and not being able to tolerate looking at moving objects
- Seeing floaters and flashes of light
- Being intolerant to light — “They find it uncomfortable to be in brightly lit rooms and outdoors in the bright sunshine,” Dr. Rowe says.
- Feeling as though eyes are dry or that they burn, itch, or feel gritty
The Effects of Vision Problems on Activities
Chronic fatigue syndrome patients usually find that their vision problems worsen toward the evening as they get more tired, Rowe says. As a result, people with chronic fatigue syndrome often find they have difficulty concentrating, particularly when reading.
Vision problems and the related discomfort also can make it hard for CFS patients to finish everyday tasks. You may have difficulty judging distances, which makes driving a problem. Also, headaches and dizziness may make it difficult to stand to cook or clean.
Getting the Right Eye Care When You Have Chronic Fatigue
Chronic fatigue syndrome patients will often visit an optometrist or ophthalmologist when they experience vision problems. “But usually the eye exam of someone with chronic fatigue syndrome is normal,” Rowe says. Prescription lenses may not help because vision changes rapidly. If you do wear glasses, tints may reduce sensitivity to light.
Because blurred or foggy vision is the most common problem, the solution is to improve the blood flow to the brain, Rowe says. “Visual blurring tends to be a temporary symptom and more related to lightheadedness and brain blood flow.” You may need to see a cardiologist or a neurologist to treat dizziness or lightheadedness.
Certainly, if you have chronic fatigue syndrome and find that you can’t tolerate bright lighting, you should wear good sunglasses when you’re outdoors, Rowe says.
Medications Can Help Vision Problems
Dry or irritated eyes can be treated with drops that lubricate the eyes; they may provide temporary relief. Warm compresses may also help, as will drinking fluids. Some chronic fatigue syndrome patients experience the opposite problem: watery eyes often caused by allergies; in this case, you may find it helpful to take over-the-counter antihistamines.
If you experience floaters, see an eye care professional immediately to be sure the cause is not a retinal tear. In patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, the floaters you see are generally harmless and do not require treatment. Over-the-counter pain medications or prescription drugs may help with headaches brought on by fatigue or dizziness.
Patients are likely to find that their chronic fatigue symptoms, including vision problems, worsen the more fatigued they are. You should talk to your doctor about the best way to treat the CFS symptoms that you find the most disruptive and disabling.