Peripheral vision loss (tunnel vision): Causes, risks and treatments

By: Bel Marra Health | Eye Health | Friday, February 24, 2017 - 02:00 PM

Peripheral Vision LossPeripheral vision is what is seen on the side by your eye when you are looking straight ahead, and peripheral vision loss—tunnel vision—can be very difficult to cope with.

Peripheral vision loss is the deterioration of your normal wide-angle field of vision. When someone loses peripheral vision in all directions, it is usually called tunnel vision. Tunnel vision can be attributed to damage to the optic nerve, to the retina, or to areas of the brain that process visual input.

If you research what peripheral vision loss is, you will likely discover a number of causes, but the most common information that will pop up will be about glaucoma peripheral vision loss. While this can be life altering, there are also situations where loss of peripheral vision is temporary. For example, there are some people who experience migraine headaches and report that they have temporary tunnel vision.

Peripheral vision loss can occur in anyone at any age, although older individuals are more likely to experience it because they tend to have underlying conditions linked to eye problems.

It can be a symptom of some conditions that cause general loss of vision. Anyone who has peripheral vision loss should seek medical attention immediately.

Peripheral vision loss symptoms

While the main symptom is the loss of side vision, there are other symptoms that could indicate that your eye or eyes are being affected by peripheral vision loss.

  • Glare or halos around lights
  • Abnormal size pupil or non-reaction to light
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Poor night vision
  • Red, sore bloodshot eyes
  • Seeing floating objects or flashing lights
  • Swelling in one or both eyes

In some cases, there are other symptoms that arise along with loss of peripheral vision, including headaches, nausea, and vomiting.

How can I test my peripheral vision?

A doctor can perform a comprehensive peripheral vision test. There are different ways to determine the extent of a person’s vision loss. Here’s a look at three different approaches:

Automated perimetry: You sit in front of a dome and stare at an object in the center. You then press a button when you see small flashes of light.

Confrontation visual field: The doctor sits right in front of you. While covering one eye at a time, you stare straight ahead and the doctor asks you when you can see their hand moving in front of you.

Tangent screen or Goldman field: You sit about three feet away from a screen with a target in the middle. You stare at the target and tell the doctor when you see an object moving into your peripheral view.

There is no preparation for these tests and no after-effects. If test results are poor, it is likely that additional eye tests will be carried out. For example, there is a specific test to determine if glaucoma is the problem.

What causes peripheral vision loss?

There are a number of underlying conditions that could cause peripheral vision loss. Some just impact the eyes, while others affect the brain or other body parts. Additionally, there are some lifestyle choices that can cause vision problems. Below is a long list of the potential causes of peripheral vision loss.

Glaucoma: Caused by a build-up of pressure inside the eye, which damages the optic nerve. It is a leading cause of tunnel vision.

Retinitis pigmentosa: A progressive disorder that is characterized by the death of cells in the retina which pick up visual information and transmit it to the brain.

Blood loss: Rapid loss of large amounts of blood, as can be the case in serious injury.

Intoxication: Drinking too much alcohol can lead to visual problems, including tunnel vision.

Hallucinogenic drugs: These drugs have the ability to alter perception and cause visual hallucinations, including tunnel vision.

Medications: More mundane drugs can sometimes lead to tunnel vision, so always report side effects to a doctor.

Concussion or stroke: Over half a million Americans suffer from stroke each year and experience symptoms that include peripheral vision loss. Concussions can also cause temporary visual disturbances.

Choroideremia: This is a rare genetic condition that leads to slow loss of vision. Vision slowly dims and eventually, peripheral vision disappears.

Retinal detachment: When a layer of sensitive cells at the back of the eye peels away.

Panic attack: Some people who experience a panic attack feel a sense of detachment and can have altered perceptions, including tunnel vision.

Cataracts: This occurs when protein that makes up the lens of the eye begins to clump together, causing a cloudy area in the eye.

Ocular migraine: Unlike migraine headaches, ocular migraines are often painless, but can involve loss of peripheral vision. Fortunately, it is temporary.

Poisoning: Mercury poisoning can lead to neurological symptoms, including visual disturbances.

Snake bite: Neurotoxic venom from certain snakes can impact the nervous system and lead to peripheral vision loss.

Loss of peripheral vision: Risks and complications

Living without peripheral vision is not only very annoying, but can be a safety hazard. Without good peripheral vision, it is harder to notice dangers that could be right in front of you. Driving a car is out of the question when you have tunnel vision, as the risk of injury to yourself or others is just too high. The same goes for riding a bicycle.

If you have lost peripheral vision, it is safest to have a friend or family member come with you when you are out doing errands. A companion can serve as a second pair of eyes so you are safe when walking. Also, it may be disheartening but necessary to suspend some of your hobbies while your vision problem is being addressed.

It is unfortunate, but there are situations where peripheral vision loss is caused by vision-threatening or life-threating conditions, such as cancer.

Even in situations where symptoms seem mild, getting professional care is important so that you can avoid complications. Those complications could include permanent loss of vision or blindness, brain damage, or unconsciousness.

Peripheral vision loss diagnosis

As mentioned earlier, you should not hesitate if you experience symptoms related to vision loss, including signs of peripheral vision loss. Your doctor can conduct a visual field test that will check for blank spots in your vision that you might not even notice yet. Finding problems before they manifest can be very helpful in slowing down the progression of eye disorders.

The test is as easy as wearing a patch over one eye so that each eye can be tested separately. While looking straight ahead, you will be press a button when you see lights flashing. Don’t cheat and turn your head side-to-side or the test will not be accurate. If you do have an eye disease, the doctor might ask you to repeat the test every 6 or 12 months. This will help them measure any changes that might be happening with your vision.

Some people, including those with diabetes, high blood pressure, migraines, poor blood circulation, and those who have a family member who suffers from glaucoma are at a higher risk of getting glaucoma. If you are in the high-risk category, you might want to consider getting tested on a regular basis.

Loss of peripheral vision treatment tips

When someone suffers from tunnel vision or peripheral vision loss, there is no easy fix. Sometimes, a lens called a prism can be added to glasses to expand field-of-view, but this is only for certain types of peripheral vision loss.

In cases that involve glaucoma, it is vital that a person takes their glaucoma medication to control high eye pressure. Without it, the risk of permanent optic nerve damage and blind spots is very high. Left untreated glaucoma can lead to blindness.

There is also treatment available for blind spots that develop as a result of brain damage. Researchers in New York recently discovered a therapy to help people regain some visual field loss linked to the brain’s primary visual cortex. Interestingly, there are techniques taught by sports vision specialists that can train the eye to have a better field of view as well.

Those who have permanent peripheral vision loss should see a low vision specialist who can provide guidance on optical devices to help with mobility issues caused by the vision loss. Vision specialists can also conduct tests to determine whether a person’s remaining vision meets legal requirements for driving a motor vehicle.

Preventing loss of peripheral vision

There are no easy prevention tips for loss of peripheral vision, but you can control some of the conditions that may put you at a higher risk for vision loss. For instance, getting a complete eye exam every two to four years, beginning at the age of 40, will allow your eye specialist to catch any abnormalities early so that they don’t progress to the point where you are permanently visually impaired.

Those who enjoy sports and other physical activities can protect their eyes by wearing glasses or goggles. A lot of people don’t realize it, but eye injuries can lead to glaucoma.

It is also worth noting that many studies have shown that regular exercise can help your eye health. As it turns out, being physically active can reduce eye pressure, which is the main cause of glaucoma. Exercise can also lower high blood pressure—another risk factor for vision problems.

We can all agree that our eyes are precious, yet a lot of people take them for granted. Getting regular check-ups and protecting the eyes is important. It is equally important to pay attention to the signs of peripheral vision loss and see a health care professional if you notice symptoms.

Related: Vision loss may increase mortality risk in seniors: Study

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Vision loss after stroke: Types and treatment


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