SCARBOROUGH, Maine -- Dr. Nathan Corbell remembers the straight-A student who used to read 500-page books in one sitting. She was in the midst of applying to colleges, and suddenly found herself unable to read for more than five minutes at a time.
Turns out, her vision had been severely impacted by two concussions, from head-to-head contact injuries in soccer. Contact sports are, in fact, the most common cause of concussions in children.
“She had been to her doctor, but she hadn’t had her eyes checked,” says Dr. Corbell, who performed a thorough round of testing to determine how her brain was processing information from her eyes. It’s an area of expertise called Neuro Optometry, and it’s a lifeline for patients who are suffering from post-traumatic vision syndrome due to a concussion.
As one of only two Neuro Optometrists in the state, Dr. Corbell is a uniquely-qualified specialist with high-level training in brain-related vision problems. He runs the Concussion Center at his Seacoast Vision Care office in Scarborough, and he wants to dispel the myth that the best treatment for a concussion is to sit in a dark room and rest.
“Concussions are treatable, and there’s no reason to wait. In fact, the earlier you seek treatment, the better,” says Dr. Corbell. He treats patients of all ages whose lives have been impacted by the visual symptoms of a concussion, which is the most common type of traumatic brain injury.
Given the wide-ranging visual impacts, Dr. Corbell emphasizes the importance of a Neuro-Optometric exam to diagnose and treat concussions, which affect people’s sleep patterns and cognitive function, as well as their emotional and physical realms.
In the case of this straight-A soccer star who found herself struggling to read, Dr. Corbell prescribed a course of treatment that included reading glasses with a special tint, to help her focus and to decrease her sensitivity to light. The results were instantaneous.
“It was very rewarding and affirming, to see her get back to her life,” says Dr. Corbell.
Patients getting back to their lives is a common occurrence at the Seacoast Vision Care Concussion Center. Whether it’s getting back into the classroom, back into a book, back into the office or back onto the field, Dr. Corbell prides himself on helping his patients heal and thrive. It’s a philosophy that keeps people coming back.
Ruth Dodge-Corbell, Founding Owner and the wife of Dr. Corbell, remembers one patient, a local business woman in her forties, who came into the office excited to buy a pair of prescription sunglasses for her vacation. That same patient came back a few months later, bracing herself against the wall and unable to balance after a car accident left her with a concussion. Motor vehicle accidents and falls are the most common causes of concussions in adults.
The patient was wearing her vacation sunglasses, but this time it was because the brain injury had left her eyes so sensitive to everyday light.
“To see her come in so miserable, wearing these dark glasses and bracing herself against the wall to keep her balance… It was heartbreaking,” Ruth Dodge-Corbell recalls.
After a series of tests, Dr. Corbell prescribed eyeglasses with prism lenses, which align the images seen with both eyes, thereby alleviating the concussion’s visual symptoms such as distortion and loss of balance. In this case, the prisms were clear plastic overlays, since her distortion was expected to be temporary. But prisms can also be ground directly into the lens, for more long-term cases.
Eyeglasses with prism and tint, like other visual treatments for concussions, allow a patient to function while continuing their recovery, by essentially getting their brain talking to their eyes again.
“It’s just so heartwarming to see the change once they put on the prisms,” says Ruth Dodge-Corbell. “And then they don’t have to suffer anymore.”
The treatment plans and the different types of lenses are as individual as the patients.
Dr. Corbell recalls one woman who came in with a head injury and difficulty focusing, as well as severe sensitivity to light. In her case, the prescription was special progressive lenses that enabled her to focus both up close and far away. Dr. Corbell also prescribed transitions lenses,
which change from light to dark, providing comfort and relief without having to change glasses.
“A post-concussion vision disturbance can affect daily activities,” says Dr. Corbell, “so we strive to treat our patients in a way that allows them to return to school, work and the sports field with decreased symptoms and increased quality of life.”
In addition to lenses, Dr. Corbell treats concussion symptoms with something called vision therapy. It’s a system that is custom-designed for each patient to repair the eye-brain connection.
Dr. Corbell likens visual therapy to physical therapy for the eyes. “But instead of treating the muscles of the body,” he explains, “it works on the eyes and visual system.”
Vision therapy at the Concussion Center includes computer-assisted activities to improve hand/eye coordination and balance. A state-of-the art machine complete with a balance board helps get the eyes and brain back in synch. There’s even an optional system that patients can use at home, with Dr. Corbell tracking the results and giving recommendations for follow-up treatment.
No matter what type of lenses or therapy Dr. Corbell prescribes, the goal is getting the focus off of the injury and onto the recovery. Seacoast Vision Care’s online reviews reflect this commitment to healing, and they consistently mention Dr. Corbell’s warm and thorough nature, as well as his personalized, patient-centered approach. It’s an approach that’s helping concussion patients see a clear path to hope.