What are physical exam findings in diplopia?

Updated: May 21, 2019
  • Author: Jitander Dudee, MD, MA(Cantab), FACS, FRCOphth; Chief Editor: Andrew G Lee, MD  more...
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Evaluate the ocular system with respect to 2 specific aspects: first, physiologically (in turn also with 2 aspects, ie, sensory function and motor function), and, second, anatomically.

The first aspect of the evaluation includes the sensory component.

Confirm that the symptom is monocular or binocular. Does covering each eye in turn alleviate the problem, or does the diplopia persist despite covering the "good" opposite eye? Monocular diplopia is very uncommon. Possible causes include severe corneal deformity or marked astigmatism (keratoconus), multiple pupils or openings in the iris, refractive anomalies within the eye (early cataracts or partially displaced lenses as in Marfan syndrome), as well as retinal abnormalities (macular scarring and distortion).

Evaluate the magnitude of difference in spectacle correction required for each eye. Marked differences between the eyes (anisometropia) will frequently produce disabling diplopia, especially in extremes of gaze.

Determine the visual acuity in each eye separately, with and without spectacle correction and with a pinhole. Does a pinhole improve the visual acuity, or does it improve monocular diplopia? Major improvement in visual acuity with a pinhole suggests intraocular or refractive problems.

Evaluate the visual field by confrontation testing or formal visual field mapping to detect possible space occupying masses impinging on the visual pathways and/or cranial motor nerves. With severely constricted fields, the peripheral clues for fusion may be lacking, resulting in diplopia.

Determine how various directions of gaze modify the diplopia. Is the diplopia the same in the 9 cardinal directions of gaze? This includes straight ahead (primary gaze), to each side as well as up and down while looking toward that side, and straight up and down from the primary position. This evaluation can enhance subtle weaknesses of individual muscles that may not be apparent during testing of the range of movements.

Evaluate how tilting the head to the left or to the right alters the diplopia. The double vision will increase when the head is tilted to the same side if vertical diplopia is present due to weakness of the superior oblique muscle (innervated by the fourth cranial nerve [trochlear nerve]). Eliciting increases or decreases in the separation of the 2 images is an essential part of the Park three-step test. In addition, evaluating the ocular deviation in cases of vertical diplopia (along with the three-step test) in both supine and upright positions may help to differentiate between that caused by skew deviation versus a trochlear nerve palsy. If the vertical deviation  results from a skew deviation, it is more likely to improve with supine positioning than that caused by trochlear nerve palsy.

Evaluate the integrity of the other cranial nerves (eg, facial sensation [trigeminal nerve], facial muscle movements).

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