Panic Attack While Driving: Could It Be Your Eyes?

Panic Attack While Driving: Could It Be Your Eyes?

panic attack

Do you suddenly experience extreme fear while driving? Sometimes this fear can be accompanied by sweating, chills, nausea, dizziness, and many other physical sensations. For people who regularly experience panic attacks while driving, the symptoms come on suddenly and can feel incredibly overwhelming. It can even cause them to feel like they might die, all of which makes it difficult to operate a vehicle. Oftentimes, people who have panic attacks will avoid freeways or even driving altogether out of fear from experiencing the symptoms.

While panic attacks can be caused by severe stress in one’s life, many people are not aware that their unpleasant symptoms can actually be a result of a slight misalignment of their eyes, a condition known as Binocular Vision Dysfunction (BVD).

panic attack
Get help for your panic attacks while driving

Get help for your panic attacks while driving.

What is a Panic Attack While Driving?

People who experience panic attacks while driving often report the following:

  • Sudden feeling of extreme fear
  • Dizziness
  • Tingling
  • Nausea
  • Choking
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Stomach pain
  • Head or chest pain
  • Feeling that you might pass out
  • Feeling out of control
  • Feeling that you might die

The above symptoms usually last for seconds to several minutes or longer.

How are Panic Attacks While Driving Different From Anxiety While Driving?

While panic attacks are a subset of general anxiety, they tend to feel much more severe than anxiety symptoms. Additionally, panic attacks last for shorter periods of time, whereas anxiety can last all day. Both conditions can be completely debilitating if left untreated.

People who experience anxiety while driving often report the following:

  • Feeling unsafe when driving
  • Worried about dying while driving
  • Nervous every time they drive
  • Concerned about hitting something or someone while driving
  • Experiencing anxiety or nervousness when getting into the car
  • Avoiding driving on the highway
  • Only driving on side roads

Experiencing anxiety while driving or panic attacks can cause people to feel like they no longer have control over their life.

What Causes Panic Attacks While Driving?

A panic attack can occur during any activity and it’s often an activity that psychologically triggers the individual. Causes include genetics, a recent accident while driving, a type of trauma, or severe emotional stress.

Treatment for panic attacks includes talking with a therapist, deep breathing techniques, reducing stress, and sometimes medications.

But some people try every type of treatment and still feel no relief - from cognitive therapy to practicing driving to help them feel more comfortable behind the wheel, managing stress, taking up meditation, and slowing their breathing when they start to feel nervous.

Most people do not realize that there is another common reason panic attacks can occur while driving: Binocular Vision Dysfunction.

panic attack while driving

Binocular Vision Dysfunction (also known as BVD) results in image misalignment. This condition is where the two eyes have difficulty working together as a team to create one clear image. The body attempts to correct this vision misalignment by overusing and severely straining the eye muscles.

In people with normal binocular vision, their eyes work in tandem, perfectly in sync at all times and sending one clear, focused picture to the brain. However, in people with Binocular Vision Dysfunction, the eyes do not work together and are not perfectly synchronized - this makes it difficult for a clear single image to be seen.

When the misalignment is severe, it causes double imagery or double vision. However, in most cases, the misalignment is very subtle, historically making it difficult to identify. Even when the misalignment is small and physically unnoticeable, the symptoms can be debilitating - especially while driving.

People with BVD often experience the following while driving:

  • Anxiety before and during driving
  • Panic attacks while driving
  • Motion sickness / nausea
  • Dizziness

How Would BVD Cause Panic Attacks and Driving Anxiety?

BVD causes dizziness and trouble with balance and depth perception, which can result in being unable to perceive how closeby other vehicles are to you and difficulty reading signage on the roads. Over time, this can cause people to become nervous about driving, which can build into more intense symptoms.

it might be your eyes

It Might Be Your Eyes

Causes of BVD
cause of bvd

BVD can be caused due to one eye being physically higher than the other, which is usually a very subtle difference. It can also be caused by a nerve or eye muscle abnormality, which is something many people are born with. As people with these abnormalities get older, the eye muscles become even more strained from trying to constantly realign the image they are sending to the brain, which results in the uncomfortable symptoms of BVD. Stroke, brain injury, inner ear abnormality / injury or certain neurological disorders can also cause BVD.

While having panic attacks while driving, along with dizziness, nausea and motion sickness is commonly associated with BVD, other symptoms can include:

  • Headache
  • Neck ache/head tilt
  • Double vision
  • Sensitivity to light/glare
  • Reading difficulties
  • Balance Problems
  • Fatigue with reading
  • Shadowed/overlapping/blurred vision
  • Feeling overwhelmed in crowds/large spaces
  • Skipping lines/losing your place while reading
  • Closing/covering an eye to make it easier to see

The symptoms of BVD can significantly negatively impact a person’s quality of life that extends beyond driving.

Treatment for Panic Attacks While Driving
treatment for panic attack while driving

Specialized aligning lenses can treat BVD and therefore eliminate the uncomfortable symptoms associated with it, including driving panic attacks. These micro-prism lenses realign the images to create one clear image, eliminating the need for the body’s struggle to do so.

To determine if your panic attacks and other symptoms are a result of BVD, our compassionate doctors utilize both a standard eye examination and a comprehensive NeuroVisual Examination and use those results to prescribe specialized aligning lenses.

Our micro-prism lenses help patients to feel noticeably better immediately. In fact, the average patient will notice a 50% reduction of symptoms by the end of their first visit. Over the next several visits, the aligning lenses are fine-tuned and continue to improve and eliminate BVD symptoms.

If driving makes you feel anxious and scared and is accompanied by nausea, you might have BVD. A NeuroVisual Examination performed by one of our experienced doctors at Vision Specialists of Michigan can help. To schedule an appointment, call (248) 258 - 9000 and receive relief from your symptoms.

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It may be your eyes

  • American Academy Optometry
  • American Optometric Association
  • Michigan Optometric Association
  • VEDA
  • Neuro Optometry Rehabilitation Association