Blurred Vision

Did you know that having blurred vision may be a sign of another problem? Continue reading to learn why.

blurred vision

Blurred vision can be an important indicator of eye disease. It can affect one eye (unilateral blurred vision) or both eyes (bilateral blurred vision), and whether it occurs often or rarely, it should never go untreated. If your vision is blurry, you are unable to see fine details, and the lack of sharpness can be frustrating. Vision loss such as blindness, double vision, or blurry vision can mean any of a number of different things, ranging from dry eyes or glaucoma to migraines or retinal detachments.

Vision loss could potentially lead to blindness. If you experience blurry vision, regardless of your age, you should visit a doctor for a checkup because it could be a warning sign of something more serious.

Blurred Vision Symptoms

In some cases blurred vision may be accompanied by additional symptoms. These symptoms may affect one or both eyes, and there is usually some other underlying cause. Symptoms can include:

Blurred Vision Causes

As noted above, blurred vision can be a sign of an underlying problem. Of course people who forget to wear their prescribed corrective lenses experience blurry vision, but it’s not always that simple. There is a long list of possible causes of blurry vision. Here we will go over a few of them.

Refractive Eye Conditions: Indicates the need for corrective lenses, or a new lens prescription.

  • Refractive Eye Conditions: Indicates the need for corrective lenses, or a new lens prescription
  • Myopia: Nearsightedness
  • Presbyopia: A diminishing ability to focus
  • Other Eye Conditions: For example, glaucoma, cataracts, or macular degeneration
  • Dry Eyes: Blurry vision is a symptom of this syndrome
  • Migraines: Some people experience blurry vision before the onset of a migraine
  • Cataracts: Causes the lenses to become cloudy
  • Contact Lenses: Dirty or damaged contact lenses can cause blurry vision

Sometimes medications cause blurry vision. There are many prescribed drugs, over-the-counter drugs, and supplements that can cause blurry vision, including:

  • Some anticholinergics
  • Some antihypertensives
  • Some asychotropic drugs
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Cortisone
  • Some antidepressants
  • Some heart medications

Diagnosing the Blurred Vision Cause

Blurred vision should never be ignored because it can be a symptom of a significant underlying condition. To find the cause of your blurred vision, your eye doctor may perform one or more of the following tests:

Slit-lamp examination: To begin an eye examination using a slit lamp, your eye doctor will have you place your chin on a resting pad. During the examination, your eye doctor will use the machine to focus on different structures in the front and back of the eye to determine whether the eye is functioning properly. If necessary, your eye doctor may adjust the intensity of the light and the level of magnification in order to see better. You will be given an anesthetic eye drop to numb the surface of your eye for a slit-lamp examination. You will also be given an eye drop called fluorescein. Fluorescein coats the surface of the eye and glows under a blue light if anything abnormal is present on the surface of the cornea. Fluorescein is also used to measure the intraocular pressure using Goldmann Tonometry.

Refraction test: This test measures your prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses. A device called a phoroptor or refractor is used. Looking through the device, you will be asked to focus on a Snellen eye chart. As your eye doctor asks you to read the chart, he or she will switch lenses of different strengths in and out of your view to determine whether you need eyeglasses.

Tonometry: During a slit-lamp examination, your eye doctor will check your eyes for intraocular pressure. As mentioned above, the anesthetic eye drops and fluorescein allow your eye doctor to measure your eye pressure. This is done with a device called a tonometer, which is attached to the slit-lamp. You will be asked to keep your eyes wide open and to breathe normally. The tonometer is brought up to the surface of each eye to measure the pressure. Sometimes eye doctors measure intraocular pressure with a puff of air on the surface of the eye.

Relieving Blurred Vision

If you are experiencing blurred vision, you should visit your eye doctor as soon as possible. There may be a wide variety of treatment options to choose from, depending on the severity of your condition. Here are a few things you can do to try to bring your vision back into focus.

Try reading glasses, which can be prescribed or bought off the rack at your local store. Sometimes buying off the rack can be a low-cost solution. First, pick a pair of the glasses with the lowest magnifying power. Stand at least a foot away from the rack to see if you can read the letters on the signs. If you cannot, switch to a higher magnification. If regular reading glasses are not the solution, you can try different types of eyeglasses such as computer glasses or bifocals, or you can also try multifocal contact lenses.

It is important to know that both eyes do not always lose vision at the same rate or at the same time. You can try to trick your brain by using two different contact lenses. One lens can be for distance vision and the other for near vision. Wearing contacts in this fashion is called monovision, or blended vision. Monovision lenses allow the brain to automatically focus the eyes for both distant and near vision.

If your eye exam does not uncover any problems, you may only need to try lubricating drops to relieve dry eyes. Over-the-counter drops are available, or your doctor can write you a prescription. Again, talk to your eye doctor about the possibilities.

Finally, if you do wear glasses or contact lenses, try cleaning them. Oil and debris can build up on the lenses and cause blurry or fuzzy vision. Many different types of cleaning solutions can be purchased over the counter, but it’s always a good idea to talk with your eye-care professional about the available options, and which brands would better suit you. Not all solutions work well with all types of lenses.

For blurriness caused by cataracts, there are surgical options to replace the old lens with a new one

Preventing Blurry Vision

In some cases blurry vision is inevitable. In most cases, however, blurry vision can be corrected or prevented. For example, wearing sunglasses will decrease sensitivity to light, which reduces the chance of developing temporary blurry vision. Also avoid drinking alcohol, which is known to alter vision.

Regular eye examinations are extremely important, especially if you are over the age of 65, or if you have a health condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Use the following chart to see when you should schedule your next visit.

Age Frequency
0 to 6 months Minimum of once a year
6 months to 18 years Every 2 – 4 years
19 to 39 years Every 3 – 5 years
40 to 64 years Every 2 – 4 years
65 and older Every 1 – 2 years

When to Contact the Eye Doctor

If blurred vision is accompanied by the symptoms listed above, you should consider contacting your eye doctor for a check-up. If medication has caused the blurry vision, do not discontinue or switch medications before seeing your eye doctor. If you are having eye pain and the eye is red, call your eye doctor immediately. Partial or complete blindness, even if it is temporary, should never be ignored and should be considered a medical emergency.

Talking to Your Eye Doctor

Here are some questions to ask your eye doctor about blurry vision:

  • What is causing my blurry vision?
  • How soon should I come back for a follow-up visit?
  • Which type of diagnostic tests should I expect?
  • What do I need to do to prepare for my next appointment?
  • Has my prescription changed since my last visit?
  • Will I need to wear glasses on a regular basis to prevent blurry vision?
  • Will I be able to drive myself home today?

Did you know…approximately 42 million Americans have no vision problems?

References:
  • J. Anshel, MD “Smart Medicine for Your Eyes” (SquareOne Publishers, 2011) 150-165; 200-266
  • J. Weizer, MD; J. Stein, MD, MS “Readers Digest Guide to Eye Care” (Quantum Publishing, 2009) 25-31
This article was last updated on 07/2014