What is Cortical/Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI)?

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 CVI 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?

CVI 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 Center for Advanced Eye Care?

At Center for Advanced Eye Care we have a dedicated Pediatric Ophthalmology Specialist, Dr. Leonard Nelson. Dr. Nelson is the Co-Director of the Pediatric Ophthalmology Department and Director of the Strabismus Center at Wills Eye Hospital. He is an Associate Professor of Ophthalmology and Pediatrics at Sidney Kimmel Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Dr. Nelson is the co-editor of the Journal of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus and has authored over 275 publications and 15 textbooks in pediatric ophthalmology. He is consistently listed as a Top Doctor in Philadelphia Magazine and Best Doctors in the U.S. Currently, he is the principal investigator of a major grant study on Nystagmus Surgery. 


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