Clear Sight Helps With Balance

Visual impairment and blurry vision found to affect quality of physical balance

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Part of a person’s sense of balance comes from the inner ear. But good eyesight may also help keep a person from tipping over.

A recent study tested the physical balance of a large group of people 40 years of age and older.

The results of this study showed that people with uncorrected blurry vision or visual impairment had worse physical balance than people with corrected or normal vision.

"Visit the eye doctor for help with blurry vision."

Jeffrey R. Willis, MD, PhD, from the Wilmer Eye Institute at the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine in Baltimore, MD, and the UC Davis Health System Eye Center in Sacramento, CA, led an investigation into whether visual impairment affected a person’s sense of balance.

“Several visual disorders are associated with diminished balance, and interventions, such as cataract surgery and balancing exercises, can improve balance in individuals with visual impairment,” wrote the study authors.

In humans, the inner ear helps to regulate a person’s sense of physical balance. The researchers tested people’s sense of balance with their eyes open and closed to see if vision and inner ear balance were interrelated.

For this study, the researchers asked people that had participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), between 2001-2004, if they would undergo an in-person balance test and a basic vision test.

A total of 4,590 individuals 40 years of age or older participated in the test.

After the basic vision test, the researchers found that 94 percent of the participants had normal vision, 4 percent had an uncorrected refractive error—blurry vision that can often be corrected with contact lenses, glasses or surgery, and 2 percent had visual impairment.

The balance test was scored on a pass/fail basis. Participants were asked to stand with their eyes open on a firm surface, eyes closed on a firm surface, eyes closed on a foam surface and eyes open on a foam surface.

Participants failed if they lost balance on the firm surface in less than 15 seconds or on the foam surface in less than 30 seconds.

Only 2 percent of people with normal vision failed the balance test. Nearly 3 percent of people with blurry vision failed the balance test. And 7 percent of people with visual impairment failed the balance test.

When the researchers asked the participants if they had fallen in the past year, 16 percent of people with visual impairment reported they had fallen compared to 4 percent of people with normal vision.

The researchers concluded that altered visual input due to visual impairment or uncorrected blurry vision reduced the inner ear's most effective balance response and this can lead to falls. The researchers determined that the inner ear and visual systems are important to maintain effective balance.

“This study reminds us how important visual function is to not only our sense of sight but how interrelated sight is to our other senses including the vestibular (inner ear) system, which is responsible for balance,” Chris Quinn, OD, FAAO, told dailyRx.

“Maximizing visual performance through correction of refractive error (blurry vision) and recognizing the limitations imposed on individuals with vision loss from disease states will help us with overall rehabilitation strategies to improve the quality of life of patients,” said Dr. Quinn, who was not involved with this study.

This study was published in June in JAMA Ophthalmology.

No outside funding sources were listed by the authors. No conflicts of interest were declared.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 11, 2013
Last Updated:
August 7, 2013