What is Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI)?

September 1, 2022
Smiling girl with rucksack and notepads with other school kids in the background.

Cortical/cerebral visual impairment (CVI) is the leading cause of visual impairment in children in the US, but many people have never heard of it. CVI is a brain based visual impairment, where the problem is with the brain, not the eye. With this condition, children see exactly what we see but their brain is unsure of how to interpret it. The good news is that with early detection and intervention the functional vision of the child can be improved. 

What causes CVI? 

CVI is caused by an injury to the brain. This injury can occur before, during, or shortly after birth. Common causes of CVI include: 

  • Lack of oxygen or blood supply to the brain — often because of a stroke  
  • Hydrocephalus (when fluid builds up in the brain)  
  • Infections that reach the brain  
  • Head injury 
  • Being born premature  
  • Certain genetic conditions 

What are the symptoms of CVI? 

Kids with cortical/cerebral visual impairment may have trouble: 

  • Responding to the things they see 
  • Seeing certain parts of what is in front of them 
  • Recognizing faces and objects 
  • Recognizing things in cluttered spaces 
  • Reaching for something while they are looking at it 
  • Understanding what they are looking at 

Parents may also notice that the child: 

  • Reacts slowly to visual cues 
  • Prefers to look at things that are moving 
  • Prefers to look at things in a certain part of their vision, like with their peripheral (side) vision 

Some kids with CVI tend to stare at light, while others are light sensitive. 

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How is CVI diagnosed? 

Cortical/cerebral visual impairment can not be diagnosed by a single test, so it is important that your child receives a comprehensive eye exam. Children should have their first eye exam at 6 months of age, followed by another exam at 3 years, and again before they start school. Early detection is key and this schedule is the best way to make sure your child’s vision is problem-free. 

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What is the treatment for CVI? 

There is no cure for CVI but vision therapy can help people with CVI make the most of their vision.

Why choose Simon Eye? 

At Simon Eye all of our optometrists perform routine pediatric eye health services and vision tests.  However, if your child has an issue that requires more specialized care, Dr. Lisa Draper and Dr. Elizabeth Ide can further examine and customize a treatment plan based on their evaluation. 

Our Pediatric Optometrists are here to educate and provide solutions for a wide range of visual issues that can occur in children. They can test for color vision deficiency, depth perception, visual acuity, and the health of your child’s eyes. They can diagnose eye diseases and problems such as conjunctivitis (pink eye), strabismus (crossed or wandering eyes), amblyopia (lazy eye), double vision and provide pre-op and post-op surgical care.