Peripheral Vision Loss

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What is peripheral vision loss?

Peripheral vision loss is the loss of your ability to see things to the side or up and down from your central vision (the line of sight directly in front of you). You may lose peripheral vision on one or both sides of your visual field. Peripheral vision loss can also affect your ability to see objects above or below your central vision. The loss of peripheral vision in all directions (that is, leaving you with only central vision) is sometimes called tunnel vision.

Although peripheral vision loss can occur with a number of eye and even systemic conditions, it is most commonly associated with glaucoma, which causes deterioration of the optic nerve. The optic nerve transmits visual signals to the brain. Retinitis pigmentosa is a hereditary degeneration of the retina, the light-sensing tissue at the back of the eye, which can lead to tunnel vision. Retinal detachment, in which the retina detaches from the underlying blood vessels that supply it with oxygen and nutrients, can also cause peripheral vision loss. You may experience temporary loss of peripheral vision along with a migraine headache. Peripheral vision loss may also occur in serious conditions that affect the brain, such as stroke or brain tumor.

Peripheral vision loss can occur in anyone, although older people are more likely to have the underlying conditions associated with it. If you experience peripheral vision loss, contact your health care provider promptly for diagnosis and treatment of the underlying cause. Most people with peripheral vision loss need ongoing follow-up care for their medical condition or eye condition.

Occasionally, peripheral vision loss can be a sign of a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you experience peripheral vision loss along with other serious symptoms including loss of consciousness, severe headache, garbled or slurred speech, sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body, and sudden change in vision, loss of vision, or eye pain.

Peripheral vision loss may be a symptom of a serious underlying condition or disease. Seek prompt medical care if you experience peripheral vision loss, even if it is temporary.

What other symptoms might occur with peripheral vision loss?

Peripheral vision loss may accompany other symptoms, which will vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition.

Other eye or visual symptoms that may occur along with peripheral vision loss

Peripheral vision loss may accompany other symptoms affecting the eye or your vision including:

  • Abnormal pupil size or nonreactivity to light
  • Glare or halos around lights
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Poor nighttime vision
  • Red, sore eyes (bloodshot eyes)
  • Seeing floating objects or flashing lights in your vision
  • Swelling of one or both eyes

Other symptoms that may occur along with peripheral vision loss

Peripheral vision loss may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, peripheral vision loss may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

  • Abnormal pupil size or nonreactivity to light

  • Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness

  • Change in mental status or sudden behavior change, such as confusion, delirium, lethargy, hallucinations and delusions

  • Garbled or slurred speech or inability to speak

  • Severe headache

  • Sudden change in vision, loss of vision, or eye pain

  • Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body

What causes peripheral vision loss?

Peripheral vision loss may be caused by a variety of underlying conditions or diseases. Some of these affect only your eyes, such as glaucoma or retinal detachment, while others affect your brain or other parts of the body, such as stroke or brain tumor. Additionally, alcohol and some medications may cause vision changes, including changes in your peripheral vision.

Common causes of peripheral vision loss

Peripheral vision loss may be caused by common events or conditions including:

  • Alcohol intoxication

  • Cataracts (clouding or loss of transparency in the lens of the eye)

  • Migraines

Serious or life-threatening causes of peripheral vision loss

In some cases, peripheral vision loss may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Brain tumor

  • Glaucoma (disorder that damages the optic nerve, often as a result of increased pressure in the eye)

  • Head trauma

  • Injury to the eye

  • Retinal detachment (detachment of the light-sensing layer inside your eye from the blood vessels that provide it oxygen and nutrients)

  • Retinitis pigmentosa (hereditary degeneration of the retina)

  • Stroke

  • Transient ischemic attack (temporary stroke-like symptoms that may be a warning sign of an impending stroke)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of peripheral vision loss

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your peripheral vision loss including:

  • Have you had recent eye surgery?

  • When did you first notice your peripheral vision loss?

  • Is your peripheral vision loss persistent, or does it come and go?

  • Is your peripheral vision loss present in one eye or both eyes?

  • Are you having any other symptoms associated with your peripheral vision loss?

  • Do you have any other known medical conditions?

  • Are you currently taking any medications?

What are the potential complications of peripheral vision loss?

Some of the underlying causes of peripheral vision loss are temporary and do not cause serious complications. However, peripheral vision loss may also be caused by vision-threatening or life-threatening conditions. Contact your health care professional if you experience double vision, even if it is temporary. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Adverse effects of treatment

  • Brain damage

  • Loss of vision and blindness

  • Progression of visual field loss

  • Spread of cancer

  • Unconsciousness and coma

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 7
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Vision problems. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003029.htm.
  2. Blindness and vision loss. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003040.htm.
  3. Domino FJ (Ed.) Five Minute Clinical Consult. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013.