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What is Ophthalmoplegia?

Ophthalmoplegia is the paralysis or weakness of the eye muscles. It can affect one or more of the six muscles that hold the eye in place and control its movement.

There are two types of ophthalmoplegia: chronic progressive external ophthalmoplegia and internuclear ophthalmoplegia.

What are the Symptoms of Ophthalmoplegia?

People affected by ophthalmoplegia may have double vision or blurred vision, as well as an inability to normally position the eyes. Some may also have a hard time moving both eyes in every direction or drooping their eyelids. Other bodily symptoms of ophthalmoplegia include difficulty swallowing and general muscle weakness.

What Causes Ophthalmoplegia?

Ophthalmoplegia can be congenital, or present at birth, or develop later in life. It is generally caused by disruption of the messages that are sent from the brain to the eyes.

Internuclear ophthalmoplegia is usually caused by multiple sclerosis, trauma, or infarction.

External ophthalmoplegia is usually caused by muscle disorders or mitochondrial diseases such as Graves or Kearnes-Sayre syndrome.

Other common causes of ophthalmoplegia include:

  • migraines
  • thyroid disease
  • stroke
  • brain injury
  • brain tumor
  • infection

How is Ophthalmoplegia Diagnosed?

Ophthalmoplegia can be diagnosed with a physical examination to check eye movements. Then, an MRI or CT scan may be used to study the eye more closely.

Blood tests may be necessary to determine whether the condition is being caused other by complications, such as thyroid disease. You may be referred to an eye specialist or neurologist for these tests.

How is Ophthalmoplegia Treated?

Treatment for ophthalmoplegia will depend on the type, the symptoms, and the underlying cause. Children born with ophthalmoplegia usually learn to compensate and may not be aware of vision problems. Adults with sudden onset ophthalmoplegia can be fitted for special glasses, or wear an eye patch to relieve double vision and help achieve normal vision.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Amber Erickson Gabbey and Kathryn Watson
Published on: Jan 31, 2014
Medically reviewed on: Dec 14, 2016: Elaine Luo, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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