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Have you ever…

  • experienced vertigo while driving – felt like the world was spinning around you?
  • ‌felt lightheaded when driving, like you might pass out?
  • ‌had trouble going over a bridge because you felt like your car was going to veer off the road?
  • been at a stoplight but felt like the car was rolling backward or still rolling forward?
  • had an out-of-body experience or floating feeling when in the car?

‌If so, you are not alone. These can be symptoms of a treatable condition called vertical heterophoria, a slight misalignment of the eyes. Up to 10% of people in the United States experience vertical heterophoria at some point in their lives.

‌In vertical heterophoria, one eye sees each image at a bit higher level than the other eye. In order to see a single clear image, the brain makes the eye muscles work harder to line up the images. Over time, your eye muscles get tired from all this extra work. 

The eye strain leads to dizziness and a feeling of being disoriented. Rapid motion can make it even harder for your eyes to adjust, so driving can make your symptoms worse. You may notice that it is especially hard to drive at night or that you feel even worse when another car passes you.

What are Other Symptoms of Vertical Heterophoria?

You may also find that your symptoms worsen when you bend over quickly, shift your head from side to side, or walk. Some other symptoms commonly experienced by our patients include:

  • anxiety or panic attacks, especially in the car or in large crowds
  • nausea when moving or in a moving vehicle
  • ‌trouble with balance
  • ‌seeing things moving in your peripheral vision that are not really in motion
  • ‌frequent headaches or migraines that don’t respond to medication

What Causes Vertical Heterophoria? 

‌Some people are born with one eye positioned a tiny bit higher than the other. The difference is typically so slight it goes unnoticed, but over time, the eye strain gradually causes more and more problems. Other people get vertical heterophoria after a head injury, even if they had only a mild concussion.

How is Vertical Heterophoria Diagnosed? 

‌We use a range of non-invasive tests to check for vertical heterophoria. This includes examining the muscles of the eyes with special lights and lenses to find any muscles that are not aligned properly.

Is Vertical Heterophoria Treatable? 

Yes! The great news is that the treatment for this eye disorder is pain-free and effective. We prescribe prism glasses that do the work of alignment by slightly moving the images your eyes see so that they line up. These look like regular glasses and can be added to your prescription if you already wear glasses. 

Prism glasses allow your eye muscles to finally rest. Most people experience an immediate 30-50% improvement when they put on the glasses for the first time. After a few months of wearing prism glasses, people report a 70-80% decrease in symptoms. We generally treat patients with prism lenses for 2-4 months, gradually changing the prescription until their eyes are realigned and symptoms are minimal. 

Dr. Sonneman of NeuroVisual Specialists of Florida is one of just eight optometrists in the country certified to treat vertical heterophoria. She is dedicated to providing excellent optometric care and helping people with vertical heterophoria get relief from their symptoms. If you experience dizziness while driving, call us today at (561) 733-9008 or fill out our brief contact form to find out if you would benefit from a specialized exam.

Dr. Erin Sonneberg, OD, received her Doctor of Optometry degree from New England School of Optometry in Boston, Massachusetts in 2004. She completed her undergraduate studies at City University of New York, Queens College in 2000, where she graduated with honors in business. Dr. Sonneberg relocated to Boynton Beach, Florida, in 2006, and has been practicing alongside prestigious ophthalmologists in the area since that time.