Vision loss: symptoms, causes and treatments



Vision loss refers to complete or partial loss of vision. Depending on the cause, it can occur suddenly or gradually over time, and in one or both eyes. Some types of vision loss are temporary or reversible.

Vision loss is relatively common. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vision problems are among the top 10 disabilities in adults and one of the most common disabilities in children.

The CDC estimates that 12 million people aged 40 or older in the United States have some form of visual impairment, including more than one million people who are blind.

Experts predict that number could more than double by 2050 due to rising rates of diabetes and other chronic diseases in the United States, as well as a rapidly aging population.

There are many possible causes of partial or complete vision loss, including medical conditions, injuries, migraine, and aging.

This article examines different types of vision loss, the causes of sudden or progressive vision loss, treatments and coping methods.

Vision loss is the term for losing the ability to see properly. There are different types of vision loss, and these can be caused by different diseases or conditions, including:

  • loss of central vision or difficulty seeing things in the center of vision
  • loss of peripheral vision or difficulty seeing things out of the corner of your eyes
  • general vision loss, when a person may not see anything at all
  • night blindness, when a person has difficulty seeing in low light conditions
  • blurry or hazy vision, when a person’s vision is blurry or as if they are looking through a filter

A person may also find themselves unable to see shapes, or only able to see shadows.

Sudden vision loss is vision loss that occurs over a period of a few seconds or minutes to a few days. It can be caused by a variety of conditions.


Many people with migraine have visual symptoms called migraine aura.

About 25-30% of people with migraine have visual aura symptoms. For some, it involves seeing zigzag lines, sparks, or spots. For others, it is tunnel vision, complete loss of vision, or loss of vision on the left or right side.

These visual disturbances are often, but not always, accompanied by a headache. They tend to last less than an hour and usually persist for 10 to 30 minutes. Some disappear after a few seconds.

Treatment for migraine may involve pain relievers and staying in a dark room, away from bright lights and loud sounds.

Read about natural migraine treatments here.


Keratitis, or inflammation of the cornea, is a condition that can occur more frequently in people who wear contact lenses than in those who do not.

Keratitis can be caused by an infection or injury to the eye. Symptoms include blurred vision, pain, sensitivity to light, or loss of vision.

This condition is temporary. A doctor will treat him with prescription medication.


Also called conjunctivitis, conjunctivitis can cause vision loss. Conjunctivitis is an infection or inflammation of the conjunctiva. It can also cause blurring, redness, pain, or difficulty seeing.

Conjunctivitis is temporary and usually goes away on its own. For bacterial conjunctivitis, antibiotic eye drops can help.

Eye strain

If a person stares at a screen for too long, they may start to lose their sight and perceive that the things they are looking at are blurry.

This is usually temporary and can be resolved by taking time away from the screen and allowing the eyes to rest.

Practicing the 20-20-20 rule can help prevent eye strain. This means that someone is looking away from the screen every 20 minutes, at something 20 feet away, for 20 seconds.

Check out the 20-20-20 rule here.

Corneal abrasion

An eye injury can also lead to sudden loss of vision. Depending on the severity of the injury, it may be temporary or permanent and treatment may vary accordingly.

People may want to see an eye doctor to assess the severity of the eye injury.

Vision loss is not always sudden. Sometimes this can happen over a long period of time.

Macular degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease that can affect a person’s central vision.

AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in people 50 years and over.

It can happen very gradually or quite quickly. For many people, they start to see a blurry area near the center of their vision, which may increase in size over time.


Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the optic nerve, located at the back of a person’s eye.

Symptoms of glaucoma can occur so gradually that a person may not know they have it until they have had an eye exam. It can occur in one or both eyes.

Left untreated, glaucoma can eventually lead to blindness, starting with peripheral vision.

Doctors use different types of treatment for glaucoma, including drugs (usually eye drops), laser treatment, and surgery. Treatment cannot repair damage already done.

Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a disease that causes vision loss and blindness in people with diabetes. It affects the blood vessels in the retina, which is the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye.

Anyone with diabetes can get diabetic retinopathy, so it’s important that a person with diabetes has regular eye exams to find it early.

There are not always noticeable symptoms in the early stages. Treatment may involve medication, laser treatment, or surgery.

In 90% of cases, diabetes-related blindness is preventable. If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can progress to total and permanent blindness.

Many types of visual impairment are preventable with early diagnosis and prompt treatment.

If a person notices that they are losing their sight, they should make an appointment with their health care provider to have it checked. This may not be anything to worry about, but it’s best to get professional advice.

If the symptoms of vision loss are accompanied by any of the following symptoms, a person should seek immediate medical attention:

  • Severe headache
  • difficulty speaking
  • falling face
  • loss of muscle control on one side of the body
  • severe eye pain

These could be signs of a stroke or other serious medical problem.

If a person experiences sudden vision loss, this should be treated as a medical emergency and they should seek medical attention promptly.

To diagnose vision loss, a doctor may do an eye exam. They can light up the person’s eyes or have them read the letters on a board to measure their vision.

Diagnosis can also include a neurological exam to test eye and brain function.

Vision loss can be difficult to cope with, especially if the loss is permanent. There are some things a person can do to help themselves cope, and there are also some government departments that can help them.

A health care provider can help direct people to the right resources. People can benefit from physical and emotional support.

the American Foundation for the Blind provide resources to help people manage new vision loss.

Ways to deal with partial or total vision loss may include:

  • rearrange the house to facilitate navigation
  • request for social security assistance
  • talk therapy
  • join a support group
  • learn braille
  • use a guide dog

Vision loss cannot always be prevented, although there are steps people can take to take care of their eye health.

People can practice good eye health by following the steps below:

  • Eye rest. Stop staring at a screen every 20 minutes to look at something about 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
  • Wear protective goggles. Wear safety glasses or eye protection when doing certain activities, such as playing certain sports, doing construction work, or doing home repairs.
  • Wear sunglasses. Choose sunglasses that protect the eyes from 99 to 100% of UVA and UVB rays.

Getting regular eye exams, knowing your risk for eye disease, eating well, and quitting smoking can also help protect your eyes.

Vision loss can have several causes. Temporary causes include migraine and conjunctivitis. Medical conditions, such as diabetic retinopathy and AMD, can cause permanent vision loss.

Often there are no warning signs or symptoms of eye disease. Early diagnosis and treatment of eye problems is the best way to keep your eyes healthy, and it is important to see a doctor if you have vision loss.



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