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If you experience a sudden change in vision - from your ability to focus to a full or partial loss of vision - talk to a doctor right away.
Not every vision change indicates an emergency, but immediate medical attention is always recommended.
Is this an emergency?
Flashes, Floaters, and Shadows
Occasional flashes and floaters are normal. However, a sudden heavy onset of flashes, floaters, or a curtain-like “shadow” in your field of vision should be considered a medical emergency.
Vision that suddenly becomes blurred could indicate one of many ocular conditions requiring immediate attention. On the other hand, gradual blurring could indicate a non-emergency such as cataracts.
Vision Loss in One Eye
Vision loss in one eye could be indicative of several conditions, including a stroke. You should speak to a physician about this change immediately.
Am I at risk of a change in vision?
Age, Lifestyle, and Other Risk Factors
If you have uncontrolled diabetes, are over the age of 40, or work in a profession that places you at risk of eye injuries, you may face a higher risk of experiencing a sudden change in vision. Pregnant women often experience blurred vision or double vision due to hormonal changes.
Why Vision Changes Occur
The retina is the light-sensitive tissue on the back inner surface of the eye that transmits light to the brain via the optic nerve. When this tissue is disrupted, it can result in a sudden change of vision.
Vision that becomes slightly blurred or compromised by rainbow-like halos can indicate closed-angle glaucoma. This disease involves a sudden increase in intraocular pressure due to blocked drainage of the fluid behind the cornea. It is usually accompanied by headaches and nausea. Open-angle glaucoma has a much more gradual onset, with vision becoming compromised only after permanent damage has taken place.
Hormones, Aging, and Other Factors
Hormonal changes during pregnancy can interfere with the ability to focus, but subside following pregnancy. Meanwhile, vision naturally degrades with age, and can be further compromised by cataracts. Presbyopia (age-related farsightedness) can begin developing around age 40. Stress can sometimes spur changes in vision such as central serous retinopathy, the development of a blister beneath the retina.
How can I avoid vision changes?
Eye diseases are common and can go unnoticed for a long time—some have no symptoms at first. A comprehensive dilated eye exam by an optometrist or ophthalmologist (eye doctor) is necessary to find eye diseases in the early stages when treatment to prevent vision loss is most effective.
Centers for Disease Control
Prevention through Eye Exams
and a Healthy Lifestyle
Undergo Regular Eye Exams
The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends that adults undergo an eye exam every two years and begin having checkups annually at age 60.
Keep Diabetes under Control
Diabetics run an increased risk of several diseases that can result in a sudden vision change or blindness. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, follow your doctor’s guidelines for managing the condition and make sure to undergo regular exams.
Diet, Exercise, Etc.
Simple measures such as eating a diet rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, light exercise, abstaining from tobacco, and protecting your eyes from UV rays can help reduce your risk of macular degeneration, cataracts, and other conditions.
What can I expect during an exam?
Assessing Your Ocular Health
Your doctor will want to know which medications you take, any eye conditions with which you have been previously diagnosed, and any family history of conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. Your eye exam may also include a series of tests, including:
Following a slow-moving object (such as a pen) with your eyes to assess the eye muscles.
Reading letters on a chart across the room.
Measuring how your cornea refracts light.
Assessing your field of vision and color perception.
Assessment of the eyelids, cornea, lens, and iris using a slit lamp.
Your doctor will examine the inner structures of your eyes to provide an accurate diagnosis.
Retinal Exam and Glaucoma Screening
Your doctor may dilate your eyes in order to achieve a clear view of the retina and look for any abnormalities. He or she will also use special tools to measure your intraocular pressure (IOP). Abnormally high IOP may indicate glaucoma.
How are vision changes treated?
Laser Retina Treatment
Advanced laser treatment can repair retinal tears and other issues that compromise the retina. Pneumatic retinopexy is an alternative treatment in which a gas bubble is placed in the eye to hold the retina in its proper position as it heals.
If vision loss is attributed to glaucoma, your doctor may be able to recommend treatments to preserve remaining sight. Closed-angle glaucoma sufferers are given drugs to reduce IOP, restore fluid drainage, and reduce nausea.
If you are diagnosed with glaucoma, surgery may be necessary to permanently improve drainage and regulate IOP. Surgery can also help control macular degeneration.
For less urgent conditions, such as cataracts, you should continue undergoing regular examinations. Surgery or other treatments may eventually become necessary in order to maintain focus.
What is my best defense against vision changes?
Prevention Is the Key
Vision changes often happen without warning. If your vision has suddenly changed, or if you are not undergoing eye exams regularly, contact a doctor today.