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Vision Distortion


Healthgrades Editorial Staff

What is vision distortion?

Vision distortion is any type of impairment in your ability to see. Within the eye there are many elements that work together with the nervous system and the eye muscles to create vision. Light flows through the cornea and the pupil of the globe (eyeball) onto the lens before it is projected onto the retina in the back of the eye. The retina transforms light into electrical impulses that can be transmitted by the optic nerve to the brain. The eyes are protected by the bones of the orbit and move through the actions of the eye muscles, which are controlled by nerves.

There are many different types of vision distortion, which may affect one or both eyes and occur in part or all of your visual field. Types of vision distortion include:

  • Blindness

  • Blind spots or black spots

  • Blurry or cloudy vision

  • Distortion of shapes (such as when straight lines appear wavy)

  • Double vision

  • Flashes of light

  • Floaters

  • Halos

  • Impaired depth perception

  • Loss of peripheral vision

  • Poor nighttime vision

  • Sensitivity to light

A variety of mild to serious diseases, disorders and conditions originating in the eye, the head, or elsewhere in the body can lead to vision distortion. Vision distortion can also result from infection, inflammation, trauma, malignancy (cancer), and other abnormal processes including head injury, temporal arteritis, stroke, and certain medications. Depending on the underlying cause, vision distortion may be temporary, intermittent, long lasting, or permanent.

The most common causes of vision distortion are refractive errors, such as farsightedness and nearsightedness, which are types of blurry vision caused by irregularly shaped corneas. People tend to be born with refractive errors or develop them through the aging process. If you experience blurry vision for either near or far objects, it is important to visit your licensed health care provider to discuss your treatment options. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 11 million people ages 12 and older in the United States could improve their vision with refractive error correction (Source: CDC).

Certain types of vision distortion can indicate a serious condition or medical emergency that can lead to total loss of sight. Conditions of the eye itself include glaucoma, eye injury, and retinal detachment. Vision distortion can also result from serious conditions originating outside of the eye, such as a serious head injury, transient ischemic attack (TIA), stroke, brain hemorrhage (bleeding), and epilepsy.

In some cases, the underlying causes of vision distortion can cause serious complications, including permanent blindness. Seek prompt and regular eye care throughout your life to reduce the risk of serious complications of conditions that affect the eyes and to best preserve your vision.

Vision distortion can also be caused by very serious or life-threatening diseases and conditions, such as head injury, brain tumor, psychosis, ingestion of a toxic plant, or stroke. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have had a head injury or experience symptoms of these conditions, including sudden vision change or distortion, sudden, severe headache, stiff neck, confusion or disorientation, slurred speech, inability to move a part of the body, passing out, or hallucinations.

Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Nov 9, 2016

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View Sources

Medical References

  1. Brain tumor - primary – adults. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH.
  2. Common Eye Disorders. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.
  3. Diseases & Conditions. American Academy of Ophthalmology.
  4. Vision problems. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
  5. Lim LS, Mitchell P, Seddon JM, et al. Age-related macular degeneration. Lancet 2012; 379:1728.
  6. Daien V, Pérès K, Villain M, et al. Visual impairment, optical correction, and their impact on activity limitations in elderly persons: the POLA study. Arch Intern Med 2011; 171:1206.
  7. Agarwal A, Kumar DA. Cost-effectiveness of cataract surgery. Curr Opin Ophthalmol 2011; 22:15.
  8. Collins RD. Differential Diagnosis in Primary Care, 5th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2012.

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