Effects on Vision

Vision problems are not uncommon among children with brain tumours. Some problems are caused by the tumour itself, depending on the tumour location. These problems may include squinting, double vision, blurred vision, or the loss of ability to see distances. In rare cases, blindness may develop. Cataracts may also develop after certain treatments. Cataracts are a clouding of the lens of the eye.

What causes the problem?

There are different causes for the problems that may occur.

  • Certain tumours can lead to vision problems such as loss of vision. A tumour in the optic pathway can lead to a narrower visual field, or blindness in one or both eyes.
  • Hydrocephalus also affects the optic nerve. It can lead to a decrease in vision, and in rare cases to blindness.
  • Craniospinal radiation or the long-term use of steroids can cause cataracts. They can cause blurred or cloudy vision, or make children sensitive to bright lights.

What can be done?

Children whose sight is affected will need regular checkups with an ophthalmologist, a doctor who specializes in eye care. In many cases, these vision problems can’t be corrected with glasses.

If your child has vision problems, some changes may need to be made in the classroom. For example, she may have problems reading the blackboard and may need to sit at the front of the class. Use large print books and handouts.

Children who develop blindness will need extra support. This support can come from a community organization that provides help to blind people, such as the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, The National Federation of the Blind in the U.S., or the Royal National Institute for the Blind in the U.K. Learning Braille, a touch-based alphabet for blind people, may be an option.

If a child has cataracts, there may not be any changes in vision if the cataract is small. If the cataract is larger or grows over time and this creates problems with daily activities. It may need to be removed with surgery.

How will this affect your child’s future?

As an adult, vision problems may affect the ability to do certain jobs or drive a car. This depends on how much the child's vision is affected.

Eric Bouffet, MD, FRCPC