Vision Change

There are many types of changes that can affect your vision, and you should always seek medical attention if changes in your vision occur. Vision changes can include blurriness, halos, blind spots, floaters, the inability to see at certain distances, and even blindness. If any of these symptoms are occurring, it could be a sign of an eye disease, aging, an eye injury, or another condition such as diabetes or Sjogren’s syndrome. Vision changes should never be ignored, as they can get worse, and sometimes lead to blindness. There are different types of eye professionals available. Here is a brief description of each:

  • Opticians can fix eyeglasses and ensure that your eyeglasses match the prescription.
  • Optometrists can diagnose and treat many eye problems and diseases, including glaucoma and general declines in vision due to age. They also prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses.
  • Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who specialize in the eyes and can prescribe eyeglasses, check for major diseases, and perform surgeries.

Vision changes affect your ability to focus on objects, see fine detail, and live life as you see fit. Of the five senses, vision is the most crucial to our overall health and well being. Although vision changes can occur at any age, most people begin to experience significant vision changes after the age of 60. Pregnant women may also experience a change in vision due to fluctuating hormones, fluid retention, and changes in their metabolism and blood circulation.

Common Vision Changes

Vision changes may involve loss or distortion of vision. Here are the top ten vision changes experienced by people worldwide:

  • Loss of central or peripheral vision; partial or complete blindness
  • Double vision or blurry vision
  • Inability to see up close
  • Inability to see far away
  • Inability to see at intermediate distances
  • Appearance of floaters, halos, auras, or flashes of light
  • Loss of depth perception
  • Color blindness
  • Photophobia (sensitivity to light)
  • Strabismus (cross-eye, wall-eye, etc.)

Causes of Vision Change

Most age-related vision changes are caused by eye conditions such as:

  • Presbyopia: Difficulty seeing objects up close, caused by aging
  • Cataracts: Common in the elderly; cloudiness over the lens, halos around lights, poor nighttime vision, sensitivity to glare
  • Glaucoma: Increased pressure in the eyes; a major cause of blindness
  • Diabetic retinopathy: Complication from diabetes that leads to bleeding of the retina; another major cause of blindness
  • Macular degeneration: Loss of central vision, blurred vision of close-up objects, distorted vision, and loss of color. The number-one cause of blindness in people over the age of 60
  • Floaters: Tiny particles that drift across the eye
  • Retinal Detachment: Disruption of visual field

Other vision changes can be attributed to fatigue, medications, trauma or injury, and overexposure to the outdoors. Medications that can affect your vision include antihistamines, high blood-pressure medication, anti-cholinergics, medications for malaria, and many others. Talk with your eye-care professional about any other medications you are taking.

Treatment for Vision Changes

Treatment for vision changes depends on the type of change. For example, if you become nearsighted or farsighted you will receive a new pair of eyeglasses or contact lenses that match your prescription. If you become extra sensitive to light (a condition called photophobia), you may need to wear sunglasses while outside and dim indoor lights. If a medication you are taking is causing vision changes, your doctor will do his or her best to find a medication that does not have visual side effects. If you experience a change in vision due to a more serious condition such as cataracts, you may need cataract surgery to improve your vision. Talk with your eye doctor about possible treatment options for you.

Preventing a Change in Vision

The best thing you can do to prevent vision changes is to see your eye-care professional on a regular basis. If you are under the age of 65 and have no family history of eye diseases, having a yearly eye exam is recommended but not always necessary. Once you hit the age of 65, regardless of your history, you should begin to see your primary care physician annually. If you are diagnosed with a separate condition such as diabetes, your doctors will probably recommend that you see an eye doctor for regular eye exams. Take a look at this list to see the other steps you can take to ensure that your vision does not take a turn for the worse:

  • Wear sunglasses while outdoors
  • Limit your alcohol and drug intake
  • Eat green, leafy foods that are rich in antioxidants
  • Watch your blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • If you are diabetic, watch your sugar intake closely

Remember, vision changes happen to all of us once we reach a certain age. Taking preventive measures when you are younger and having regular medical and eye exams could enable you to catch a problem early. Knowing your family’s history can also help you determine what type of lifestyle would be beneficial to you and aid in future diagnoses. Most importantly, if you are experiencing any type of vision change, go see your eye doctor. Otherwise something minor could turn into something major.

When to Contact Your Doctor

Contact your doctor immediately if:

  • You experience sudden vision changes
  • You have eye pain
  • A severe headache develops
  • You experience a sudden loss of coordination
  • You experience a loss of consciousness
  • You experience sudden weakness or numbness on one side of your body
  • Your speech becomes slurred or inaudible

Any of these items could indicate a medical emergency. Consider seeking medical attention if the symptoms listed above accompany a change in vision.

Talking to Your Eye Doctor

Changes in your vision should be taken seriously. Even if you are not experiencing sudden changes, it is best to know what to expect before it happens. Here are some questions to ask your eye doctor about vision changes:

  • Which changes in my vision should I take very seriously?
  • What is causing these changes in my vision?
  • What treatment options do I have?
  • Will my vision ever return to normal?
  • Can you refer me to a local vision specialist?
  • How often should I come in to see you?
  • What should I expect during future visits?

Did you know…some states allow eyeglass-mounted telescopes to be used for driving in certain situations?

References:
  • S. Moore, MD; K. Yoder, MD “Complete Guide to Symptoms, Illness & Surgery” Revised 5th Edition (The Berkeley Publishing Group, 2006) 42-43
  • R. Abel, Jr., MD “The Eye Care Revolution” (Kensington Books, 2004) 239
  • J. Weizer, MD; J. Stein, MD, MS “Reader’s Digest Guide to Eye Care” (Quantum Publishing, 2009) 76-77
This article was last updated on 07/2014