The What, Who, and How of Cortical Vision Impairment

September is Cortical Vision Impairment (CVI) Awareness Month. In honor of CVI Awareness month, we put together some key facts to help you better understand the disease and the complexities that come along with a CVI diagnosis.  

What is CVI?

Cortical Vision Impairment is a complicated disease where the brain cannot process what the eyes see. In a person with normal vision “the eyes take a picture of an object. That message is sent to the brain by way of the optic nerves. The brain is then able to recognize the image”1. In those with CVI, “The eye takes a normal picture of the object and sends the message to the brain. The message is not properly processed because of the abnormal brain function”2

What are the Symptoms/Warning Signs?

Symptoms those with CVI may experience include:  

  • Poor vision
  • Difficulty seeing/recognizing objects or faces 
  • Struggling to focus on an object while reaching for that object 
  • Trouble understanding what they are looking at2 
  • Preference to look at things a certain way – prefer peripheral vision 
  • Slow reaction time 
  • Trouble focusing and preference to look at objects that are moving2 

Who is at Risk?

CVI typically affects young children although adults who have suffered some sort of brain trauma may also develop CVI. Perkins School for the Blind states, 1 in 30 kids have CVI-related visual difficulties3. This can be caused by lack of oxygen to the brain, excess fluid in the brain, infections in the brain, or can even be a result of genetics. Children born with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and hearing loss are also more likely to develop CVI2. Further, “up to 70% of kids with cerebral palsy and 38% with Down syndrome have CVI”3

How to Diagnose CVI?

Since CVI is caused by brain damage, it may be difficult for an eye doctor to diagnose. If your child’s eye issues are not solved with a new pair of glasses, then they may be experiencing CVI. There are specialists, such as pediatric neurologists or neuro-ophthalmologists, who may be able to better diagnose the disease2.  

How to Treat CVI?

Early treatment of CVI is essential in children to prevent the condition from worsening. Due to its complexities, treatment for CVI should be determined by a visual impairment specialist. The specialist can provide exercise recommendations for the child to do to improve their vision. Some of these exercises may include exposing the child to mobiles, using sound or touch to get the child’s attention, presenting the child with objects from different angles, exposure to different lighting, and other exercises to stimulate eye recognition1.  

Overall, Cortical Vision Impairment is a very convoluted disease that can be very hard to diagnose. And while there is no cure, there are exercises and therapies that can help most children with CVI experience improvement with their visual recognition. 

To help us better understand what a child with CVI sees, the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts put together the video below: What is it like to have CVI?

To find a list of eye care providers near you, you can use our NVA Eye Care Provider Search Tool on the Member Portal or the NVA Vision Benefits Mobile App.