Symptoms A-Z

Vision Changes Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your vision changes symptoms, including 8 causes & common questions.

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Vision Changes Symptoms

A change in normal eyesight, whether sudden or gradual, can have a significant impact on daily activities from reading to driving and interacting with friends and family. However, many vision changes simply require attention or monitoring from a trained eye physician. Technological advances in recent years have been very effective in treating many different eye disorders.

Vision changes may also be called impaired vision or blurred vision.

Symptoms may appear in one or both eyes or may include associated behavioral changes [1].

Symptoms appearing in one or both eyes

You may notice the following occurring:

  • Pain: Sudden eye pain or intolerance to light and glare
  • Reduction in vision: Poor night vision, hazy or blurred vision, or double vision (diplopia)
  • Flashes of light: Or they may just be bright floating spots
  • Halos around lights: Sometimes in rainbow colors
  • Total loss in some areas: Such as blind spots or loss of peripheral (side) vision
  • Obscured field of vision: This may occur in the top or bottom half of the field of vision
  • Eye appearance: Cloudy appearance over the lens of the eye, changes in eye color, or white spots in the pupil of the eye

Behavioral changes

Certain behavioral changes may arise due to vision changes, such as:

  • Interference with daily activities: This may include reading, writing, driving, TV, or hobbies.
  • Hesitancy while walking: This is especially likely on rough surfaces, in dim light, or up and down stairs.

Who is most likely to be affected?

People who are most likely to be affected by vision changes include [1,2]:

  • People over 40: They are most prone to loss of focusing ability.
  • People over 60: They are most prone to cataracts and other diseases of the eye.
  • Smokers
  • Those with diabetes or high blood pressure: Both can damage the small blood vessels in the eyes.
  • Anyone taking medication that causes visual side effects

Are vision changes serious?

Vision changes can vary in severity, although, most are cause for some concern.

  • Not serious: It is common to lose focusing ability as you grow older. You may need more light for reading or have trouble telling colors apart.
  • Moderately serious: Cataracts are common among older people but can be treated with good results.
  • Serious: Vision that changes often, even throughout the day, may indicate a more serious problem. Of course, any major, sudden change in eyesight should be treated by a medical provider as soon as possible.

Vision Changes Causes

Many conditions can cause the symptom of vision changes. We've listed several different causes here, in approximate order from most to least common [1,3,4].

Gradual loss of focus

Loss of ability to focus on close objects is a normal result of aging and happens to most people over age 40.

Clouding of the eye

Clouding of the lens of the eye can be a result of aging, injury or damage to the eye, diabetes, or use of steroid medication for other conditions.

Diabetic eye diseases

Diabetes causes abnormally high blood sugar (hyperglycemia). The eye is very sensitive to high levels of sugar within it and cannot respond to light as it normally does. High sugar levels are also damaging to the physical structures of the eye.

Other eye diseases

Other ailments that can lead to vision changes may involve:

  • High pressure within the eye: High pressure within the eyeball (intraocular pressure) can be measured by your ophthalmologist.
  • Aging: Deterioration of the retina due to aging, along with hereditary and environmental factors.

Rare and unusual causes

Rare and unusual causes may include:

  • Multiple sclerosis: This may cause inflammation of the optic nerve and subsequent vision changes.
  • Brain tumor: Vision may be affected depending on where the tumor is located in the brain.

We've listed some specific conditions that can cause vision changes, along with how to identify each of them:

8 Possible Vision Changes Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced vision changes. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Age-related macular degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease in which the center of the retina is progressively damaged, leading to gradual central vision loss. The macula, found at the center of the retina, is responsible for producing central...

Condition causing vision changes

Gray dots in one's vision suggests damage to the nerves leading from the eye. You need to see a doctor immediately for treatment!

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: vision issue with seeing gray spots

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a condition in which the retina becomes damaged in people with diabetes. Risk factors for developing diabetic retinopathy include high blood sugars, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, genetic factors, undergoing cataract surgery, puberty,...

Condition causing loss of vision

Sudden vision loss is very worrisome and suggests a damage to the nerves of the eye or the retina.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: loss of vision, vision issue with seeing gray spots

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Vision Changes Symptom Checker

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Retinal detachment

The retina is a layer of tissue in the eye. When the retina detaches, its normal position is disrupted causing vision changes.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: floating spots in vision, flashing lights in vision

Symptoms that always occur with retinal detachment: floating spots in vision

Symptoms that never occur with retinal detachment: eye pain, eye redness, eye itch, wateriness in both eyes

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Cataract

A cataract is when the lens, a crystalline structure in the eye that normally allows light into the eye, becomes cloudy. Symptoms of a cataract include blurry vision, difficulty seeing at night, glare, difficulty discerning colors, and increased nearsightedness.

The diagnosis is made by examination by an ophtha...

Acute close-angle glaucoma

Acute closed-angle glaucoma is also called angle-closure glaucoma or narrow-angle glaucoma. "Acute" means it begins suddenly and without warning.

"Glaucoma" means the fluid pressure inside one or both eyes is too high. "Closed-angle" means that the iris – the circular band of color in the eye – does not dilate open properly and blocks the natural drainage mechanism within the eye. The fluid builds up and causes the pressure to increase.

The exact cause of any glaucoma is not known. It may be an inherited trait.

Acute closed-angle glaucoma can be triggered by an extreme dilation of the eyes, as when walking from bright light into total darkness.

Symptoms include sudden eye pain, headache, nausea, blurred vision, and seeing a rainbow-like aura around lights. This is a medical emergency. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Diagnosis is made through patient history and thorough eye examination.

Treatment involves surgery to correct the dilation and drainage mechanisms of the eyes, as well as prescription eyedrops and oral medications.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: headache, nausea or vomiting, vision changes, being severely ill, eye pain

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack)

Transient ischemic attack, or TIA, is sometimes called a "mini stroke" or a "warning stroke." Any stroke means that blood flow somewhere in the brain has been blocked by a clot.

Risk factors include smoking, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, though anyone can experience a TIA.

Symptoms are "transient," meaning they come and go within minutes because the clot dissolves or moves on its own. Stroke symptoms include weakness, numbness, and paralysis on one side of the face and/or body; slurred speech; abnormal vision; and sudden, severe headache.

A TIA does not cause permanent damage because it is over quickly. However, the patient must get treatment because a TIA is a warning that a more damaging stroke is likely to occur. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Diagnosis is made through patient history; physical examination; CT scan or MRI; and electrocardiogram.

Treatment includes anticoagulant medication to prevent further clots. Surgery to clear some of the arteries may also be recommended.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: dizziness, leg numbness, arm numbness, new headache, stiff neck

Symptoms that never occur with stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack): bilateral weakness

Urgency: Emergency medical service

Vision Changes Treatments and Relief

Treatments for vision changes can begin at home, however, you should also consult your physician if your symptoms do not resolve easily.

At-home treatments

Several at-home remedies may provide some relief from vision changes [6].

  • Adjust electronic devices: Personal computers, tablets, and cell phones all have settings where you can adjust the brightness, text size, and other aspects to make reading easier.
  • Wear protective glasses: These include sunglasses when outdoors and safety glasses when working with tools.
  • Make healthy lifestyle changes: Adjust diet, exercise, and sleep habits to improve overall health.

Medical treatments

You should consult an eye doctor for the following.

  • Rapidly changing vision: If your vision changes throughout the day, this may be a sign of high blood pressure or diabetes.
  • Bright flashes of light: This could be a tear or detachment of the retina, especially if accompanied by bright moving specks called "floaters."
  • Night blindness: This means your eyes fail to adjust to low light conditions, such as driving after dark.
  • Migraine headache: Migraines often begin with vision changes.
  • Medication side effects: Discuss your symptoms with your medical provider and ask whether another medication may be better for you.
  • Smoking cessation: Smoking causes restricted circulation, which is very damaging to the eyes.

Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 the following occur

The following occurrences constitute an emergency [5]:

  • Your vision changes after a head injury: This may be due to a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
  • There are symptoms of stroke: These include loss of use of one side of the body and difficulty speaking.
  • There are symptoms of sudden-onset glaucoma: These include blind spots, loss of peripheral vision, sudden eye pain, and seeing "halos" around lights.
  • There are signs of eye infection: These include blurred vision, redness, and pain.

FAQs About Vision Changes

Here are some frequently asked questions about vision changes.

Is there a difference between simple loss of focus, as with aging, and actual blurred vision?

Gradual loss of ability to focus happens to virtually everyone as they get older. Blurred vision that happens more suddenly may be due to dry eye syndrome and helped with artificial tears. However, blurred vision can be a symptom of diabetes, so you should be seen by a medical provider if you have any other symptoms of this condition.

Can laser surgery help the loss of focus that comes with aging?

LASIK eye surgery is not usually recommended for simple age-related loss of focus (presbyopia) [7,8]. That condition is caused by a hardening of the lens, not by its shape, and LASIK is used to correct shape. In some cases, it may be done only on one eye and you can discuss this possibility with your ophthalmologist.

Do some serious eye problems have no early symptoms?

Yes. Conditions such as glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and cataracts often go unnoticed by the person who has them until the disease is advanced [9]. But these can be detected on a routine eye examination, which is why it is important to have regular exams once over the age of about 40.

Can migraine headaches cause vision damage?

Visual disturbances are often part of a migraine headache, but the headache does not actually cause eye damage. However, it can be difficult to tell whether your symptoms are simply from the migraine or are from an actual condition such as a detached retina. If there is any doubt, you can see an ophthalmologist for a diagnosis.

Are vision changes a warning of blindness?

Some vision changes may be symptoms of eye diseases that can result in blindness, especially if not treated. Conditions that carry the most risk of blindness are macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, and some forms of infection. You can see an ophthalmologist for an examination if you are experiencing any troubling symptoms.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Vision Changes

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Are you experiencing a headache?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • What is your body mass?
  • Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

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Vision Changes Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced vision changes have also experienced:

  • 9% Headache
  • 5% Fatigue
  • 4% Nausea

People who have experienced vision changes were most often matched with:

  • 50% Condition Causing Vision Changes
  • 25% Age-Related Macular Degeneration
  • 25% Diabetic Retinopathy

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Vision Changes Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your vision changes

References

  1. Lusby FW. Vision Problems. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated October 1, 2018. MedlinePlus Link
  2. Adult Vision: 41 to 60 Years of Age. American Optometric Association. AOA Link
  3. Age-Related Eye Diseases. National Eye Institute. NEI Link
  4. Moschos MM. Physiology and Psychology of Vision and Its Disorders: A Review. Medical Hypothesis, Discovery & Innovation Ophthalmology Journal. 2014;3(3):83-90. NCBI Link
  5. Pokhrel PK, Loftus SA. Ocular Emergencies. American Family Physician. 2007;76(6):829-836. AAFP Link
  6. Klein BE, Klein R. Lifestyle Exposures and Eye Diseases in Adults. American Journal of Ophthalmology. 2007;144(6):961-969. NCBI Link
  7. Glossary of Common Eye & Vision Conditions. American Optometric Association. AOA Link
  8. Are There Limits to Laser Refractive Surgery After Midlife? Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. Published July 2011. Harvard Health Publishing Link
  9. Brady CJ. Vision Loss, Sudden. Merck Manual Consumer Version. Updated June 2018. Merck Manual Consumer Version Link

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.