Eye Exam Detects Golf-Ball-Size Brain Tumor and Saves 8-Year-Old’s Life

An eight-year-old Atlanta girl had such severe headaches that she awoke screaming in the night. One doctor prescribed migraine medication, but most of the doctors who examined Ruby were not thorough. As luck would have it, Ruby’s parents brought her in for a comprehensive eye exam. It was Dr. Bender’s thorough examination of Ruby that enabled her to spot the tumor. The girl’s mother believes the decision to have her eyes examined may have saved her daughter’s life.

The eye exam indicated there was swelling on the brain and that something might be pressing on the optic nerve tract. At the emergency room, imaging tests revealed a golf-ball-sized tumor. It wasn’t malignant, but treatment kept the girl in the hospital for a month. She has since recovered and is now attending second grade.

In an interview with WSB-TV Atlanta, optometric physician Kristin Bender said that simple school vision screenings don’t catch potential health problems.

American Optometric Association (AOA) President Andrea P. Thau, O.D., agrees. In an interview with Care2, she said while tumors of that type aren’t common, they can be life threatening. As the tumor grows, it squeezes and presses on the brain and can cause stroke or other loss of function.

“The eye is an extension of the brain,” said Thau. “We’re able to pick up on problems by the appearance of nerves, pupil responses, and eye tracking. I’ve picked up on brain tumors and aneurysms in my practice. Most of the time, people only have mild symptoms when they come in for an exam, without realizing something significant is going on. A comprehensive eye exam can save or change someone’s life.”

Thau said she once detected a pituitary tumor based on her patient’s vision. She said there are many other neurological and health problems that can be detected during a comprehensive eye exam, including multiple sclerosis (MS).

She explained that the eye is the only part of the body where doctors can see the arteries and veins without having to cut someone open. That can also help diagnose high blood pressure and diabetes.

“In 2014, 240,000 new cases of diabetes were detected during an exam by a doctor of optometry. An eye exam is much more than getting a pair of glasses. It’s one of the most important steps someone can take to maintain good eye health and good vision, and to maintain overall health,” continued Thau.

In the event an eye exam turns up an underlying health condition, eye care doctors can refer patients to other healthcare providers, such as ophthalmologists, neurologists, or other specialists.

“Vision is the sense people fear losing the most. But those who have worries about losing vision don’t always take the steps necessary to protect it. People take vision for granted.”

Not all serious eye conditions have symptoms. Glaucoma, the leading cause of blindness, often has no symptoms, said Thau. That’s why an annual comprehensive eye exam is so important.

Red flags that mean you should have your eyes checked now

  • sudden onset of floaters or flashes of light for no reason
  • anything that blocks part of your vision
  • sudden loss of vision
  • eye pain
  • light sensitivity
  • eyes don’t look clear and normal or they’re red and irritated
  • sudden droopy eyelid
  • double vision
  • headaches

If you have these symptoms, contact your doctor of optometry right away.

In addition, signs of vision problems in children include:

  • squinting to see the television or board in school
  • tilting the head or covering one eye in bright sunlight
  • rubbing the eyes, red eyes
  • reading comprehension decreasing over time or reading ability falling off pace
  • not performing academically as well as you would expect
  • behavior or attention problems

Aside from when you have symptoms, when should you get your eyes examined?

Thau said children should have their first eye exam between 6 and 12 months of age, then on an annual basis. It doesn’t even have to cost you any money. InfantSEE.org provides a no-cost vision assessment for babies all around the country. The website features a searchable database so you can find a participating doctor in your area.

Pediatric eye exams are also one of the 10 essential health benefits covered in the health insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Vision is often overlooked in children, according to Thau. “Children don’t complain because they assume how they see is normal. But poor vision has a negative impact on motor, social, and academic performance, as well as intellectual development. One exam is not enough. Eyes change over time. We need to make sure visual development keeps pace with visual demands.”

Adults should have their eyes examined on an annual basis or as recommended by their eye doctor. You may have to see an eye doctor more often if you have systemic health problems.

Don’t have any eye doctor? Check out the Doctor Locator on aoa.org.

Related Reading
How To Help Your Eyes Recover from Staring at Screens
Spider Web Vision: Should You Be Worried?
Marilyn Monroe or Albert Einstein: Who Do You See?

Image Credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Marc P.
Marc P2 years ago

Thank you for sharing

Beth M.
Beth M2 years ago


Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for sharing.

David C.
David C2 years ago

thanks, peace

Elinor Dorrian
Elinor Dorrian2 years ago

That's an amazing opthalmologist!

Lisa M.
Lisa M2 years ago


Janet B.
Janet B2 years ago


Freya S.
Freya S2 years ago

This is why it is important to get regular eye exams.