Loss of Vision
Overview | Symptoms | Sudden vision loss | General loss of vision | Peripheral | Central | Diagnosis | Treatment
Vision loss refers to anything that results in impaired vision. Loss of vision can present in different ways. You may experience partial or total vision loss, and it can be in one or both eyes. Some people lose vision in one part of their visual field, such as peripheral or central vision.
When is vision loss an emergency?
If you experience sudden vision loss, seek emergency care. Delayed treatment can lead to permanent damage and lost eyesight.
The main symptom is vision loss itself. Though, you may experience related symptoms as well.
These could be other symptoms related to the eyes such as:
- Eye strain/squinting
- Glare or halos
- Eye pain and redness
- Hazy or blurred vision
- Struggling to read or write
- Difficulty distinguishing different people
They could also be more general, for example:
Vision loss can also happen gradually or suddenly, depending on the cause, so you may not notice any symptoms initially.
Sudden vision loss
We consider vision loss sudden if it occurs over a few minutes or days. It is distressing to lose vision so quickly, and it can be equally dangerous. If you experience sudden vision loss, visit an A&E or call 999 immediately.
Some people experience pain with vision loss, though it can also happen painlessly. It depends on the cause. Vision loss may last a short time or continue until treated and affect all or part of your visual field.
A blocked retinal or optic nerve artery can cause sudden vision loss, as can retinal detachment. A detached retina requires emergency care and can permanently alter your vision if it’s left untreated for too long. Many simultaneous eye floaters signify retinal detachment; this is often painless.
Trauma to the eye (an injury) can also cause sudden vision loss, though often temporary. How severe your loss of vision is will depend on the extent of the damage. We always recommend wearing appropriate eyewear to protect your eyes when they are at risk of injury.
General loss of vision
Vision loss can occur at different degrees: partial or total. Various eye conditions can affect your near, distant, peripheral and central vision. General vision loss may build slowly and require correction with glasses or contact lenses.
Refractive errors can cause vision loss over time. These include short-sightedness, long-sightedness, astigmatism, and presbyopia.
Keratoconus (corneal bulging) often leads to poor vision that worsens over time as well. Some conditions may cause temporary vision problems. Examples include conjunctivitis and keratitis.
Conjunctivitis is a type of eye infection that causes blurry vision, redness of the eye, and pain. Keratitis refers to an inflamed cornea; an eye infection or injury to the eye can cause this. You may experience blurry or hazy vision, sensitivity to light, and pain.
Poor peripheral vision is also known as tunnel vision or peripheral vision loss (PVL). It may feel as if you’re looking through a tunnel or a narrow tube due to lost side vision.
You may need to turn your head more often to see what’s around you, which can affect your driving ability. You might also walk into things more often as you are less aware of your surroundings.
Glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, retinitis pigmentosa, and a stroke can all lead to peripheral vision loss. Migraines can also cause temporary tunnel vision.
Certain conditions, such as glaucoma and macular degeneration, can cause scotoma (a blind spot), which can also affect your peripheral vision.
Other problems that can cause poor peripheral vision are a damaged optic nerve, a detached retina, and brain damage.
The opposite of peripheral vision loss is central vision loss, experiencing difficulty in the centre of your field of vision. People with central vision loss have good or better peripheral vision.
You may experience dark or blurry spots in the centre of your vision, or your sight may be otherwise distorted. Some people also have issues with colour perception – colours may appear duller or different to how they appeared previously.
Central vision loss is often a result of damage to specific structures in the eye. A common cause is age-related macular degeneration (AMD). We categorise AMD into wet (fast-progressing) and dry (slow-progressing). Cataracts can also affect your central vision. In the later stages, you or others may see the cataract with the naked eye.
While glaucoma usually affects the peripheral vision only, it may change your central vision in its late stages. It can lead to complete vision loss without treatment, though this is rare.
During your consultation, we will discuss how your vision loss presents, e.g. centrally or peripherally. We will need to know how long you’ve experienced problems seeing and any other symptoms you have.
The diagnostic tests we perform will depend on the information you provide. However, you will likely need one of the following.
- Corneal scans
- Retinal assessment
- Slit lamp exam – to view your eye’s structure
- Nerve scan (OCT) – to assess your optic nerve
- Applanation tonometry – measuring your eye’s fluid pressure
- Visual acuity tests – using an eye chart with decreasing letters
Depending on your diagnosis, you may need frequent follow-up exams. For example, people with diabetes will need consistent monitoring of diabetic retinopathy.
Your treatment options differ by condition and stage. We may not be able to restore your vision fully if you come to us at a late stage. Treatments range from glasses to surgical intervention. Below we summarise the treatment options for common causes of vision loss.
Refractive errors: People can usually treat refractive errors with glasses or contact lenses. But, some people find these an inconvenience. For a permanent solution, you may consider laser eye surgery or an implantable contact lens for a high prescription.
Glaucoma: We treat glaucoma by reducing intraocular eye pressure. We may recommend eye drops, laser treatments, or glaucoma surgery. Learn more here: Glaucoma Treatment.
Cataracts: Glasses or contact lenses can often tackle impaired vision. However, we can only remove a cataract with cataract surgery.
Age-related macular degeneration: Anti-VEGF injections and photodynamic therapy (PDT) may benefit people with wet AMD. People with dry AMD could improve their vision by implanting a telescopic lens. You will need to discuss your type and treatment options with our ophthalmologist. We explain treatment options in more detail here: Macular Degeneration Treatments.
Keratoconus: Treatment options for keratoconus vary on the stage, though one of the most common treatments is corneal cross-linking. It’s rarely necessary, but those with late-stage keratoconus may require corneal transplantation.
Many people with eye conditions have underlying health conditions that can affect their eye health. Ensure you manage other health conditions, such as diabetes, to promote good eye and overall health.
Book an appointment
If you experience loss of vision, book an appointment with a specialist to check your eye health. To understand what is causing your vision loss, you will need a thorough consultation and assessment.
Our ophthalmologist will perform any necessary tests to diagnose the cause of your vision loss and recommend suitable treatments. Seek a prompt diagnosis to prevent worsening vision loss.