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Eye test

Some brain tumours can be detected through an eye test. But, it depends on the type of tumour and where it is. It’s also good to remember that brain tumours are relatively rare and vision problems can be caused by a lot of different factors.

woman having a brain tumour eye test

Short summary

Changes in vision are symptoms of brain tumours. So, if you have problems with your eyes or vision, you may visit your local optician for an eye test. Your GP may also refer you to an optician to review any symptoms you may be experiencing.

Most people should have their eyes examined every two years (or every year for children under the age of 16). You may be advised to have an exam more often depending on your age and general/eye health. These can be arranged at your local opticians, and the NHS gives some people a free eye test for a number of reasons.

If you experience problems with your eyes or notice changes, you should book an eye test with your optician. It’s understandable to be nervous if you’re having trouble with your sight. But, remember that brain tumours are relatively rare and the majority of vision issues are not due to brain tumours. However, if one is detected, you will be able to get a referral and begin treatment as early as possible.

On this page, we’ll cover everything you need to know about eye tests and brain tumours. You’ll find:

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Can an eye test detect a brain tumour?

Yes, eye tests can sometimes detect brain tumours. In fact, they can even spot brain tumours before there are any noticeable symptoms, making routine eye tests a good choice if possible.

During an eye test, an optician can identify a brain tumour by either noticing a swelling of the optic disc or seeing pressure on the optic nerve. Both of these can cause changes in vision.  

But, it’s important to remember that eye tests can’t always identify brain tumours. It depends on the type of tumour and where it is in the brain. Still, they are often helpful.

Problems related to brain tumours may include:

  • Abnormal eye movements (including a newly acquired turn in the eye)
  • Persistent/recurrent headache
  • Suspected loss of vision
  • Abnormal head position such as wry neck, head tilt or stiff neck
  • Blurred or double vision and loss of vision.
  • Write down and record what was said to you at the time, as people often forget the information given
  • Prepare any questions you have beforehand either mentally or written down. It is very common that people forget to ask important questions
  • It can help to bring with you a copy of your medical prescription listing any medications you are currently taking, or that you are going to be placed on
  • Speak to your high-street optician in between hospital appointments if you have any questions
  • Your eye(s) may be dilated so you may not be able to drive afterwards, bring some sunglasses
  • You should take someone with you to your appointments, so that they can help you take notes, or remember things that you might not. It can also good to have someone there who can help support you emotionally. Most healthcare practitioners  have a chaperone policy which will allow you to bring a family member/partner/friend/guardian/social worker etc with you.
optician doing an eye test looking for a brain tumour

Preparing for your eye test

The eye test appointment will probably be fairly short, and it can help to be aware of this so that you can provide the optician with the relevant information. Below are some tips that may be helpful:

  • You may like to write a list of any medication you or your child takes. You can refer to this in your appointment or show the optician
  • You may want to bring any previous glasses prescriptions for you or your child
  • You may want to bring any written documents for any eye health problems you or your child have had in the past
  • Try to think back to when you or your child first noticed changes or symptoms and if they have changed or worsened since then
  • Keep a diary of any symptoms you may have up until your eye test.

During your appointment

The optician will want to examine you or your child. The optician will usually:

  • Check your vision
  • Assess the movements of your eye muscles
  • Examine the internal and external eye
  • Provide you with a spectacle prescription

They may perform extra tests if they feel it is necessary.

Depending on the optician’s findings during your appointment, the outcomes could be:

  • 1. Reassurance that you or your child do not have any brain tumour signs that require an urgent referral. The optician should explain his or her reasons for this reassurance. They may refer you or your child to an eye specialist or a GP if they think there may be a different condition that needs investigating.
  • You may be referred to a hospital eye department or A&E for other urgent tests. This may be due to a suspicion of a brain tumour or other possible causes.
  • For non-urgent further investigation by an eye specialist, you might be sent to the GP for a referral or to a specialist eye department.
  • If the optician believes there is an issue which is not related to the eye, he or she may ask you to see your GP.

At the end of the appointment, make sure you know what’s next. For example:

  • If you are expecting to be contacted – when and by who?
  • If you need to make another appointment, when should this be?

After your eye test

Follow the next steps discussed with the optician. If you don’t hear from your optician or eye specialist within the timeframe you expected to, contact them to follow this up.

Continue to keep a watchful eye on your symptoms. If there are any major changes, phone the optician or, if they are closed, visit A&E.

If you have further questions, need to clarify any of the information on this page, or want to find out more about research and clinical trials, please contact our team:
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