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).

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.

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

Causes 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

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.

Want to learn more about Binocular Vision Dysfunction?

Watch these videos of BVD patient experiences:

Pastor Jim's Binocular Vision Dysfunction Story

Riley's Binocular Vision Dysfunction Story

Professional Colleagues Discuss Binocular Vision Dysfunction

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It may be your eyes

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

Dr. Sandy DiPonio earned her optometry degree from Illinois College of Optometry in 1996. She is a highly skilled and experienced eye care professional dedicated to giving her patients of all ages excellent and compassionate care. She has a wide variety of experience in binocular vision, pediatric and adult eye care, ocular disease and contact lens fitting. She strives to provide each of her patients the best quality of life they can achieve with their vision through knowledge and education of treatment options.

Dr. DiPonio is a member of the American Optometric Society and Michigan Optometric Society.

Dr. Sally Hoey has been practicing optometry since graduating from Michigan College of Optometry in 2001. During her time in optometry school, she developed an interest in binocular vision, culminating in a senior thesis involving binocular vision.

Prior to joining Vision Specialists of Michigan, Dr. Hoey specialized in the diagnosis and treatment of vision-related learning problems as well as other binocular vision disorders. Her other areas of interest include specialty contact lens fittings and treating dry eye. Dr. Hoey strives to provide her patients with clear, comfortable vision while meeting their individual needs at the same time.

Dr. Hoey had the opportunity to provide eye care on an optometric mission trip to Guyana, South America and vision screenings at a local medical clinic. She is a member of the American Optometric Association, Michigan Optometric Association, Metropolitan Detroit Optometric Society and the College of Optometrists in Vision Development.

Dr. Jennifer Place graduated with honors from Michigan College of Optometry in 2001.

Before joining Vision Specialists of Michigan, she specialized in treating pediatric and adult patients with binocular vision disorders and vision-related learning problems, as well as fitting specialty contact lenses and managing various types of ocular disease. She enjoys working with patients with unique visual needs, and she takes great pride in providing all patients with highly customized care.

Dr. Place has volunteered for Opening Eyes, a program that provides eye exams to the athletes of the Michigan Special Olympics, and she participated in an international mission to St. Lucia to provide eye care to those in need. Dr. Place is a member of the Detroit Optometric Society, the Michigan Optometric Association, the American Optometric Association, the College of Vision Development, and the Optometric Extension Program Foundation.

Dr. Mary Jo Ference has been practicing optometry since 1990 upon graduating from Ferris State University- Michigan College of Optometry, and is certified in Low Vision Rehabilitation. She has worked at Sinai-Grace Hospital systems for over 20 years before joining Vision Specialists of Michigan in 2013 to work with binocular vision disorders. Her clinical areas of expertise include visual rehabilitation of pediatric and adult patients who have suffered from brain trauma, injury or disease. She has taught both optometry and ophthalmology residents at Sinai Grace Hospital. Dr. Ference has sat on numerous boards, including Sinai Grace Hospital, Berry Out-Patient Surgical Center, and Seedlings Braille Books for the Blind. She is actively involved in area school districts to provide education, training and access for students, teachers, OT’s and PT’s to eye care service rehabilitation information. Dr. Ference has lectured extensively nationally and internationally.

Dr. Debby Feinberg began practicing Optometry in Oakland County in 1983, upon graduating from Illinois College of Optometry. She joined her father, Dr. Paul C. Feinberg, at Mall Optical Center, which was located in Summit Place Mall.

Since 1995 Dr. Feinberg has been developing the field of NeuroVisual Medicine which is the optometric subspecialty that identifies and treats neurological / medical symptoms that originate directly or indirectly in the visual system.

Dr. Feinberg has been performing pioneering work with Binocular Vision Dysfunction (BVD), a condition where a vision misalignment (frequently subtle) creates difficulties with the two eyes working together to create a single 3-dimensional image, and difficulties with the two eyes following that image as it moves.

The symptoms caused by BVD are not usually associated with problems with the visual system, and include headache, dizziness, anxiety and panic, persistent post-concussive symptoms, gait instability and balance problems, frequent falls, neck pain, motion sickness, nausea, and reading and learning problems.

In 2004. Dr. Feinberg established Vision Specialists of Birmingham, specifically designing the practice to accommodate the needs of the NeuroVisual Medicine patient.

In 2011, the office moved to its current location in Bloomfield Hills and updated its name to Vision Specialists of Michigan.