Treatment Side Effects - Vision Changes

Some patients receiving treatment for lung cancer may experience changes to their vision, including blurred vision, double vision, or increased sensitivity to light. The side effects experienced are different and can vary in severity for the individual drugs used to treat lung cancer. Some drugs can cause the formation of cataracts (cloudy areas that develop in the lens of the eye), which can reduce vision clarity. Some drugs can interfere with tear production, causing discomfort and blurring of vision, while other drugs may damage the optic nerve, which is responsible for carrying visual information from the eyes to the brain.1,2

Vision problems

Problems with vision from lung cancer treatment may show up as:

  • Cloudy or blurry vision
  • Redness and inflammation
  • Colors appearing faded or dull
  • Lights appearing too bright or with a halo around them
  • Double vision
  • Difficulty seeing in the dark or at night
  • Severe eye pain
  • Discharge from the eye
  • Watery or dry eyes 2,3

Why treatments can cause vision changes

While lung cancer treatments are designed to attack cancer cells, healthy cells are also often affected, causing side effects such as vision changes. Chemotherapy, which targets any rapidly dividing cell, can suppress the immune system, putting patients more at risk for infections such as conjunctivitis (pink eye). Some chemotherapy medications can also create cataracts or make eyes more sensitive to light. Targeted therapy can also cause vision changes in lung cancer patients, such as blurred vision, double vision, or increased sensitivity to light. Radiation therapy, when directed near the eyes, such as in the case of a cancer that has metastasized, or spread, can cause dry eyes or damage to the optic nerve.2,3

Minimizing eye problems

As with any side effects from lung cancer treatments, patients who experience any changes to their vision or problems with their eyes should report these side effects to their doctor or nurse. Additional strategies that can help minimize eye problems include:

  • Using over-the-counter artificial tears to hydrate eyes
  • Avoiding wearing contact lenses during treatment
  • Wearing corrective glasses to improve vision
  • Cleaning eyelids with warm water and baby shampoo
  • Applying a warm washcloth to eyelids
  • Scheduling regular eye exams with an eye doctor, preferably starting before treatment begins to note a baseline for vision and then regularly throughout treatment
  • Using bright light when reading 2,3

Some people with cataracts may get surgery to correct their eye problems. Cataract surgery is common, but most eye doctors recommend trying coping mechanisms, including using bright lights for reading and wearing glasses, before considering surgery.2

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Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: January 2017.