Vision Changes

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What are vision changes?

Vision changes are any alterations in your ability to see normally and include blurred vision, cloudy vision, double vision, seeing spots in your vision, or loss of vision. Vision changes may occur in one or both eyes. Vision changes may originate in the eyes themselves or may be caused by many different conditions that affect the whole body.

Many vision changes are the result of simple refractive errors such as myopia (nearsightedness) or presbyopia (age-related farsightedness), which are easily corrected with eyeglasses or contact lenses. Another common and easily corrected type of vision change occurs with cataract, which is the gradual loss of transparency in the lens.

Vision changes may affect your ability to focus on objects at a specific distance or at every distance. Although anyone can experience vision changes, they are more common in older people, who are more likely to have chronic conditions that affect vision.

Although many vision changes are not serious, in some cases they may be caused by vision-threatening or life-threatening conditions. Because the causes of vision changes are so varied and may sometimes be serious, it is important to contact your health care provider promptly for diagnosis and treatment.

In some cases, vision changes can be a symptom of a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you experience vision changes, especially if they come on suddenly, along with other serious symptoms, including severe eye pain, severe headache, sudden loss of coordination, loss of consciousness, sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body, or garbled or slurred speech, even if these symptoms are temporary.

Seek prompt medical care for any vision changes that cause you concern.

What other symptoms might occur with vision changes?

Vision changes may accompany other symptoms, which will vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition.

Other eye symptoms that may occur along with vision changes

Vision changes may accompany other symptoms affecting the eye including:

  • Decreased vision in dimly lit environments

  • Double vision

  • Droopy eyelid

  • Dry eyes

  • Increased sensitivity to light

  • Increased tear production or discharge from the eyes

  • Itchy eyes

  • Red, sore eyes (bloodshot eyes)

Other symptoms that may occur along with vision changes

Vision changes may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

  • Abnormal gait

  • Difficulty speaking

  • Headache

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Tremor

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, vision changes may be a symptom of a serious or even 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 serious or life-threatening symptoms:

  • 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

  • Severe headache

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

  • Sudden increase in floating objects, spots, or flashing lights in your vision

  • Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body

What causes vision changes?

Vision changes may be caused by a wide variety of underlying conditions or diseases. Some vision changes originate in the eye itself, while others are caused by conditions that affect the brain, central nervous system, or other parts of the body. Although many of the conditions that cause vision changes are not serious and are easily corrected with eyeglasses or contact lenses, others may be caused by sight-threatening or life-threatening conditions. Contact your health care provider to determine the cause of your vision changes.

Common causes of vision changes

Vision changes may be caused by conditions including:

  • Age-related macular degeneration (disorder that causes loss of vision in the macula, the area of the retina responsible for seeing detail in the central vision)

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

  • Corneal edema (swelling and clouding of the normally transparent cornea)

  • Diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and blindness (serious vision complications of diabetes)

  • Dry eyes

  • Infections of the eye

  • Injury to the eye

  • Macular edema (fluid accumulating within layers of the retina)

  • Migraines

  • Myopia (nearsightedness; inability to focus on distant objects)

  • Need for corrective lenses, such as eyeglasses or contact lenses, or need for change in eyewear prescription

  • Presbyopia (age-related farsightedness; inability to focus on near objects)

  • Retinal detachment

  • Uveitis and iritis (inflammation of structures of the eye)

Serious or life-threatening causes of vision changes

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

  • Brain tumor

  • Endophthalmitis (infection inside the eyeball)

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

  • Head trauma

  • Malnutrition

  • Ocular and orbital trauma

  • Optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve)

  • Orbital tumor

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

  • Stroke

  • Temporal arteritis (Giant cell arteritis)

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

  • Vitamin deficiency

Questions for diagnosing the cause of vision changes

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

  • Have you had previous eye surgery?

  • How long have you had vision changes?

  • Are the vision changes persistent or do they come and go?

  • Are the vision changes present in one or both eyes?

  • Are you currently taking any medications?

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

  • Do you have any other known medical conditions?

What are the potential complications of vision changes?

In most cases, vision changes are not caused by serious conditions. However, in rare instances, they may be associated with a systemic disease or condition that, left untreated, may cause vision-threatening or life-threatening complications. If you experience vision changes, it is important to contact your health care provider to determine the underlying cause of your vision changes and get treatment if needed.

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

  • Chronic eye pain or discomfort

  • Involvement of the fellow eye

  • Loss of vision and blindness

  • Spread of cancer

  • Spread of infection

  • Unconsciousness and coma

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 8
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.
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