Cranial Nerve Examination

Cranial Nerve Examination

Cranial nerve examination involves a number of steps as you are testing all 12 of the nerves in one station. Therefore be certain to know which nerve is being tested next and what tests you must perform for that nerve.

Personal techniques may be adopted for this station so that it flows best for you, however, this guide will take you through each nerve systematically.

Subject steps

  1. The Olfactory nerve (CN I) is simply tested by offering something familiar for the patient to smell and identify – for example coffee or vinegar.
  2. The Optic nerve (CN II)is tested in five ways:
    • Acuity
    • Colour
    • Fields
    • Reflexes
    • Fundoscopy
  3. The acuity is easily tested with Snellen charts. If the patient normally wears glasses or contact lenses, then this test should be assessed both with and without their vision aids.

    • Snellen chart
      Snellen chart
  4. Colour vision is tested using Ishihara plates which identify patients who are colour blind.

    • Ishihara color test plate
      Ishihara color test plate
  5. Visual fields are tested by asking the patient to look directly at you whilst you wiggle one of your fingers in each of the four quadrants. Ask the patient to identify which finger is moving.

    Visual inattention can be tested by moving both fingers at the same time and checking the patient identifies this.

    • Visual fields test 1
      Visual fields test 1
    • Visual fields test 2
      Visual fields test 2
  6. Visual reflexes comprise direct and concentric reflexes.

    Place one hand vertically along the patients nose to block any light from entering the eye which is not being tested. Shine a pen torch into one eye and check that the pupils on both sides constrict. This should be tested on both sides.

    • Shining light into eye
      Shining light into eye
  7. Finally fundoscopy should be performed on both eyes.

    • Fundoscopy
  8. The Oculomotor nerve (CN III) and Trochlear nerve (CN IV) is involved in movements of the eye.

    Asking the patient to keep their head perfectly still directly in front of you, you should draw two large joining H’s in front of them using your finger and ask them to follow your finger with their eyes. It is important the patient does not move their head.

    Always ask if the patient experiences any double vision, and if so, when is it worse?

    • Oculomotor examination
      Oculomotor examination
  9. The Trigeminal nerve (CN V) is involved in sensory supply to the face and motor supply to the muscles of mastication.

    Initially test the sensory branches by lightly touching the face with a piece of cotton wool followed by a blunt pin in three places on each side of the face:

    • around the jawline,
    • on the cheek and,
    • on the forehead.

    The corneal reflex should also be examined as the sensory supply to the cornea is from this nerve. Do this by lightly touching the cornea with the cotton wool. This should cause the patient to shut their eyelids.

    • Jawline
    • Right cheek
      Right cheek
    • Forehead
    • Corneal reflex test
      Corneal reflex test
  10. To test the motor supply, ask the patient to clench their teeth together, observing and feeling the bulk of the masseter and temporalis muscles.

    Ask the patient to then open their mouth against resistance.

    Finally perform the jaw jerk on the patient by placing your left index finger on their chin and striking it with a tendon hammer. This should cause slight protrusion of the jaw.

    • Muscles of the head and neck
      Muscles of the head and neck
    • Masseter muscles
      Masseter muscles
    • Temporalis muscles
      Temporalis muscles
  11. The Abducent nerve (CN VI) is tested in the same manner as the oculmotor nerve, again in eye movements.
  12. The Facial nerve (CN VII) supplies motor branches to the muscles of facial expression.

    This nerve is therefore tested by asking the patient to crease up their forehead (raise their eyebrows), close their eyes and keep them closed against resistance, puff out their cheeks and reveal their teeth.

    • Crease forehead
      Crease forehead
    • Closed against resistance
      Closed against resistance
    • Puff out their cheeks
      Puff out their cheeks
    • Showing teeth
      Showing teeth
  13. The Vestibulocochlear nerve (CN VIII) provides innervation to the hearing apparatus of the ear and can be used to differentiate conductive and sensori-neural hearing loss using the Rinne and Weber tests.

    To carry out the Rinne test, place a sounding tuning fork on the patient’s mastoid process and then next to their ear and ask which is louder. A normal patient will find the second position louder.

    To carry out the Weber’s test, place the tuning fork base down in the centre of the patient’s forehead and ask if it is louder in either ear. Normally it should be heard equally in both ears.

    • Rinne test - mastoid process
      Rinne test – mastoid process
    • Rinne test - beside ear
      Rinne test – beside ear
    • Weber test
      Weber test
  14. The Glossopharyngeal nerve (CN IX) provides sensory supply to the palate. It can be tested with the gag reflex or by touching the arches of the pharynx.

    • Glossopharyngeal nerve examination
      Glossopharyngeal nerve examination
  15. The Vagus nerve (CN X) provides motor supply to the pharynx.Asking the patient to speak gives a good indication to the efficacy of the muscles. The uvula should be observed before and during the patient saying “aah”. Check that it lies centrally and does not deviate on movement.
  16. The Accessory nerve (CN XI) gives motor supply to the sternocleidomastoid and trapezius muscles. To test it, ask the patient to shrug their shoulders and turn their head against resistance.

    • Sternocleidomastoideus
    • Trapezius
    • Accessory nerve examination 1
      Accessory nerve examination 1
    • Accessory nerve examination 2
      Accessory nerve examination 2
  17. The Hypoglossal nerve (CN XII) provides motor supply to the muscles of the tongue.

    Observe the tongue for any signs of wasting or fasciculations. Ask the patient to stick their tongue out. If the tongue deviates to either side, it suggests a weakening of the muscles on that side.

    • Hypoglossal nerve examination

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