Approach to a Patient with Diplopia in the Emergency Department.

J Emerg Med. 2018 Feb 6. pii: S0736-4679(17)31211-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2017.12.045. [Epub ahead of print]

Approach to a Patient with Diplopia in the Emergency Department.



Diplopia can be the result of benign or life-threatening etiologies. It is imperative for the emergency physician to be proficient at assessing diplopia and recognize when urgent referral or neuroimaging is required.


The first part of this review highlights a simple framework to arrive at the appropriate disposition of diplopic patients presenting to the emergency department (ED). The second part of this review provides more detail and further management strategies.


ED strategies for assessment of diplopia are discussed. Management strategies, such as when to image, what modality of imaging to use, and urgency of referral, are discussed in detail.


Unenhanced plain computed tomography (CT) of the head or orbits is largely not useful in the work-up of diplopia. Magnetic resonance imaging is preferred for ocular motor nerve palsies. Due to limited resources in the ED, patients with isolated fourth and sixth nerve palsies with the absence of other neurological signs on examination should be referred to Neurology or Ophthalmology for further work-up. All patients presenting with an acute isolated third nerve palsy should be imaged with CT and CT angiography of the brain to rule out a compressive aneurysm. Contrast-enhanced CT imaging of the brain and orbits would be indicated in suspected orbital apex syndrome or a retro-orbital mass, thyroid eye disease, or ocular trauma. CT and CT venogram should be considered in cases of suspected cavernous sinus thrombosis. In any patient over the age of 60 years presenting with recent (1 month) history of diplopia, inflammatory markers should be obtained to rule out giant cell arteritis.


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