What causes visual disturbance? 84 possible conditions

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What Are Visual Disturbances?

Visual disturbances interfere with normal sight. The various types of visual disturbances may be caused by several conditions and disorders. Some are temporary and can be relieved with treatment. However, some can be permanent.

Types of Visual Disturbances

The most common visual disturbances include double vision (diplopia), partial or total blindness, colorblindness, blurred vision, halo, and pain.


Diplopia is also called double vision. If you are seeing two objects when you should be seeing one, you are experiencing diplopia. This visual disturbance can be a symptom of a serious health problem, so it’s important you see your doctor when symptoms begin. 

Two types of diplopia exist: monocular and binocular.


Double vision that affects one eye is called monocular double vision. It can be the result of a physical change to the lens over your eye, the cornea, or the retinal surface.


Double vision in both eyes may be the result of poorly aligned eyes or nerve damage that prevents your brain from properly layering the images your eyes are seeing.

Double vision can also be a result of miscommunication in your brain—if your brain cannot overlay the two images your eyes are seeing, you may experience double vision. Covering the affected eye will not solve the problem, however. You are still likely to see a “ghost image” when the damaged eye is closed.


Partial blindness means you are able to see light as well as some degree of what’s around you. Total blindness refers to a condition where you can no longer see light. People with vision worse than 20/200 are considered legally blind. Their vision may be corrected with glasses, surgery, or contact lenses. In many cases, people with partial or complete blindness cannot restore their sight.


Individuals who are colorblind are unable to see colors. Most people with poor color vision are only partially colorblind—they lack the ability to differentiate between specific shades of certain colors. Total colorblindness is rare. People who are completely colorblind see only shades of gray.

Blurred Vision

Blurred vision may be the result of changing eyesight or a symptom of another condition. Eyes that no longer align properly cannot receive and read visual messages from your eyes. Corrective lenses or contacts can fix most cases of blurry vision, but vision disturbances caused by another condition may require additional treatment.


Halos appear as circles of light around objects.


Pain or discomfort in your eye is different from condition to condition. It may feel like a scratching sensation when you open and shut your eyelid. Alternately, it may be a continuous throbbing in your eye that is not relieved by closing your eye.

What Causes Visual Disturbances?

Visual disturbances can be caused by several conditions. The most common are listed here.

Double Vision (Diplopia)

Causes of double vision include:

  • an autoimmune disorder, like myasthenia gravis, which prevents the muscles inside your eyes from being activated by your nerves
  • cataracts
  • clouding of your eye’s lens
  • corneal scarring or infections
  • diabetes
  • hypertension
  • injury or irregularity on your eye’s lens and cornea
  • muscle weakness
  • nerve conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and Guillain-Barre syndrome

Sudden onset of diplopia may be caused by a stroke, migraine headache, aneurysm, or a brain tumor.

Partial or Total Blindness

Blindness has many causes. The most common include:

  • accidents or trauma to the eyes
  • advancing age
  • cataracts
  • diabetes
  • glaucoma
  • hereditary condition
  • macular degeneration
  • optic neuritis, or inflammation of the optic nerve
  • stroke
  • tumors


Common causes for poor vision color or colorblindness include:

  • advancing age
  • certain medications, such as those used to treat high blood pressure, erectile dysfunction, and psychological problems
  • diabetes
  • exposure to certain chemicals, such as fertilizers
  • glaucoma
  • inheriting the condition (Colorblindness is more common in men. The most common form of colorblindness is red-green color deficiency.)
  • macular degeneration
  • optic neuritis, or inflammation of the optic nerve
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • sickle cell anemia

Blurred Vision

Causes of blurred vision can include one or more of the following:

  • bacterial infection, such as trachoma
  • cataract
  • corneal abrasion or infection
  • glaucoma
  • inadequate prescription glasses or contact lens
  • macular degeneration
  • migraine headache
  • optic nerve problem
  • trauma or injury to the eye
  • tumor


Halo can be caused by any of the following:

  • cataract
  • damage or disease that affects your eye’s cornea
  • glaucoma
  • migraine
  • ocular migraine


Causes of pain related to vision include:

  • bacterial infection
  • conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • glaucoma
  • injury or inflammation in the eyelids
  • migraine headache
  • optic neuritis, or inflammation of the optic nerve
  • problems with contact lens
  • sinus headache or infection
  • stye (an inflamed oil gland that develops on your eyelids)

Who Is at Risk for Visual Disturbances?

Anyone can experience a visual disturbance at any time, but several conditions put you at an increased risk for one or more of the most common visual disturbances. These conditions include:

  • brain tumor
  • cataracts
  • diabetes
  • glaucoma
  • macular degeneration
  • migraines

Diagnosing Visual Disturbances

If any of the visual disturbances begins suddenly and unexpectedly, see a doctor as soon as possible. In some cases, the visual disturbance may be the result of a minor problem, but many serious conditions, such as aneurysm, glaucoma, and brain tumors first cause vision problems.

Your doctor will likely perform several diagnostic tests to determine the cause of your visual disturbance. These tests might include a physical exam, eye exam, and blood tests. Imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a computed tomography (CT) scan may also be used to confirm a problem or further investigate a suspected condition.

Treating Visual Disturbances

The first step in treating a visual disturbance is figuring out the underlying problem that is causing it. Once you and your doctor have discovered the problem, you can develop a plan for treatment. In some cases, the disturbance will go away naturally—blurry vision caused by a headache will usually resolve when the headache recedes. However, your doctor may wish to prescribe medicine to prevent future headaches or medicine you can take when a headache begins causing visual complications. 

There are several common treatments for visual disturbances. Medication can treat underlying conditions so they no longer cause symptoms. Dietary changes can prevent visual disturbances in people with uncontrolled diabetes. Glasses, contact lenses, or magnifying devices may be able to correct vision disturbances that cannot be corrected with another treatment. If necessary, surgery can help relieve or repair damaged nerves and muscles.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.


Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

Conjunctivitis, or "pink eye," is an infection or swelling in the eye area that causes inflammation of the conjunctiva, giving the eye a red or pink color.

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Cataracts are dense, cloudy areas that slowly form in the lens of the eye. They are common in older people, but can also be present at birth or caused by medications, disease, trauma, or radiation.

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Nearsightedness (Myopia)

Nearsightedness, or myopia, is a very common condition in which nearby objects are visible but faraway objects are out of focus and difficult to see.

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Presbyopia causes people's eyes to be unable to focus as quickly on close-up objects. It naturally affects everyone's eyes as they age.

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Farsightedness, or hyperopia, is a common vision impairment in which you are able to see things that are far away, but have trouble seeing things that are up close.

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Glaucoma is a term for several eye conditions that can damage your optic nerve. It has many types, and over time it can lead to vision loss.

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Retinal Detachment

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

When the retina separates from the back of the eye, this is known as retinal detachment. It is a medical emergency that can cause partial or total vision loss.

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Stroke Overview

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A stroke (a "brain attack") is a medical emergency in which part of the brain is deprived of oxygen. This occurs when an artery that supplies oxygenated blood to the brain becomes damaged and brain cells begin to die.

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Temporal Arteritis

Temporal arteritis is a condition in which the temporal arteries, which supply blood to the head and scalp, become inflamed or damaged. Scalp sensitivity or tenderness is a symptom.

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Corneal Abrasion

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A minor scratch to the eye's cornea is called a corneal abrasion. It can be caused by dust, contact lenses, or other foreign objects, and can sometimes develop into a serious eye condition.

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Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a condition that occurs as a result of damaged blood vessels of the retina in people who have diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy can develop whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. While you ma...

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A pterygium is a growth that develops on the conjunctiva or mucous membrane that covers the white part of your eye. It is a benign or noncancerous growth that is often shaped like a wedge. In some cases, a pterygium ca...

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Uveitis is swelling of the middle layer of the eye, which is called the uvea. The uvea supplies blood to the retina. The retina is the light-sensitive part of the eye that focuses the images you see and sends them t...

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Strabismus is a disorder in which the eyes do not line up in the same direction. People with strabismus cannot look at the same object or place with both eyes at the same time. The condition is often referred to a...

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Optic Neuritis

Optic neuritis (ON) is a condition in which your optic nerve (the nerve that carries visual information from your eye to your brain) becomes inflamed. Inflammation causes vision loss-although usually in only one eye. A...

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Intracerebral Hemorrhage

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

An intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH) occurs when blood suddenly bursts into brain tissue, causing damage to the brain, which may present symptoms similar to that of a stroke. Lobar intracerebral hemorrhages occur in th...

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Corneal Ulcer

At the front of the eye is a clear layer of tissue called the cornea. The cornea is the window of your eye and permits light to enter the eye. Tears constitute the natural defense against bacteria, viruses, or fungi fo...

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Making Sense of Hypertensive Retinopathy

The retina is tissue located in the back of your eye that transforms light into nerve signals that are then sent to the brain for interpretation. When your blood pressure is too high, the retina's blood vessel walls ma...

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Benign Positional Vertigo

Benign positional vertigo (BPV) is the most common cause of vertigo. Generally, it causes a sudden sensation of spinning, but it can also make you feel like your head is spinning from the inside. BPV can involve brie...

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Retinal Vascular Occlusion

Retinal vascular occlusion affects the eye, specifically the retina. An occlusion occurs when one of the veins or arteries carrying blood to or from the retina becomes blocked or contains a blood clot. The blockag...

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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