Anxiety is a normal human emotion, one that’s been hardwired into us for hundreds of thousands of years.
When you become anxious, your body undergoes a series of both mental and physical changes in order to protect you from potential danger. Common physical symptoms of anxiety include changes in your heart rate, breathing, and even vision. This includes, in some cases, developing blurred vision.
In this article, we’ll explore whether anxiety causes blurred vision, other ways in which anxiety can affect your vision, and when to seek treatment for sudden blurred vision.
Blurred vision is defined as a loss of focus and sharpness in one’s eyesight that makes it difficult to see objects clearly.
Blurred vision is most often associated with “nearsighted” or “farsighted” vision and is commonly treated with corrective lenses. But there are other underlying causes of blurry vision that have nothing to do with the strength of your eyes.
Although anxiety isn’t a common cause of blurred vision, there may be some link between anxiety and blurry vision. In order to understand why anxiety might cause blurred vision, it’s important to first understand what happens in the body when you become anxious.
When you become anxious, a response known as the fight, flight, or freeze response kicks in.
During this response, the body undergoes a variety of physiological changes due to the release of two primary stress hormones, adrenaline, and cortisol. These stress hormones cause you to experience changes in blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and more.
Generally, your vision actually becomes sharper when you’re anxious rather than blurrier. This is because the stress response improves your vision to help you more easily identify threats.
But there may be a few reasons why some people experience blurred vision when anxious. When your stress response kicks in, your heart starts to race, your blood pressure rises, and your movement can become quicker as you scan for threats.
If you’re moving faster than usual, you may notice that it’s hard to focus on things around you. Trouble focusing on your environment can often trigger the illusion of blurred vision.
Dry eyes are a well-known cause of blurred vision, so it’s possible that anxiety may indirectly cause blurry vision associated with dry eyes. But this symptom is more common in those with chronic anxiety and stress rather than acute anxiety.
Other symptoms of long-term anxiety may be indirectly linked to changes in vision.
For example, people who are frequently anxious may have trouble taking care of their needs, like drinking enough water or eating enough food. Not being able to keep up on our basic needs may cause issues like dehydration, another common cause of blurred vision.
In people with anxiety disorders, chronic anxiety may also be linked to other chronic health conditions that can impact vision.
For example, long-term anxiety can increase the risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to a condition called hypertensive retinopathy. Retinopathy and other chronic health conditions that may be associated with anxiety can also cause blurry vision.
But even though these connections can potentially be made between anxiety and blurred vision, it’s still uncommon for anxiety to be a primary cause of blurry vision. In fact, there’s only been one research article published recently on the potential link between anxiety and visual diseases.
Results of the study found that higher anxiety levels were associated with an increased risk of conditions like glaucoma and dry eye syndrome, both of which can cause blurred vision. According to the researchers, this may have something to do with the impact of stress on the vascular system.
Ultimately, although anxiety may cause some people to experience blurred vision, much of the evidence to support this connection is anecdotal, and more research is still needed.
Dizziness, which includes symptoms like lightheadedness or vertigo, has many underlying causes — including anxiety. In the same way that anxiety can affect the vision, adrenaline and cortisol released by the sympathetic nervous system can also have a direct impact on the vestibular system.
Vestibular problems are one of the leading causes of lightheadedness, vertigo, and other symptoms related to dizziness. When stress hormones are released, they can influence the balance of the cells within the vestibular system, leading to these symptoms.
Interestingly, dizziness can also cause trouble focusing visually, which may lead to the feeling of blurred vision.
Anxiety triggers the release of multiple stress hormones, causing a wide variety of symptoms, including visual symptoms. Although visual symptoms differ from person to person, anxiety may also cause:
Some of these visual symptoms, like tunnel vision and light sensitivity, may be more likely to appear more during acute anxiety episodes, like a panic attack. But many of these symptoms, like eye strain and eye twitching, are more likely associated with the long-term effects of excess stress and anxiety.
While some level of anxiety is normal and necessary in everyday life, sometimes anxiety can become chronic and intrusive. Anxiety disorders affect more than 40 million adults in the United States, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
If you have an anxiety disorder, treatment is the most important step in helping you reclaim your well-being. Common treatment options for anxiety disorders include:
Psychotherapy is one of the most effective interventions for mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is considered the “gold standard” treatment option for anxiety disorders. It helps address the underlying thoughts, behaviors, and feelings connected to anxiety.
Medication is another effective intervention for people living with chronic anxiety. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are two of the most commonly prescribed long-term medications for anxiety disorders.
Short-term medications, like benzodiazepines, may be prescribed for quick-acting relief. But these medications come with a potential risk of addiction.
Lifestyle changes can be an effective way to reduce daily stress in people with anxiety disorders. According to the research, even as little as 150 minutes of exercise per week can help alleviate the symptoms of both anxiety and depression.
Not only that, but activities that focus on relaxation and mindfulness, like yoga or meditation, can be a great way to reduce the daily impact of stress.
In many cases, blurred vision is caused by visual conditions that are limited to the eyes. But there are other underlying health conditions that can also cause blurred vision as a symptom. Potential causes for blurred vision may include:
- cancer of the brain or eye
- corneal abrasion
- detached retina
- eye infection
- eye inflammation
- eye injury
- macular degeneration
- Parkinson’s disease
- temporal arteritis
- transient ischemic attack
If you’ve recently noticed that it’s becoming more difficult to see because of blurry vision, it’s important to schedule a visit with a doctor or eye doctor right away.
When blurred vision is an emergency
Blurred vision that happens gradually may indicate an underlying condition that requires medical attention.
But you should seek medical attention immediately if you’re experiencing sudden blurred vision, especially in addition to the following symptoms:
- facial muscle drooping
- loss of muscle control, usually on one side
- severe headache
- slurred speech
- vision loss
Blurred vision, in addition to the symptoms listed above, may indicate a serious condition, like a stroke or transient ischemic attack. If you or someone else is experiencing any of the symptoms above, it’s important to get help right away.
While anxiety is known to cause a wide range of physical symptoms, blurred vision isn’t generally considered a common symptom of anxiety. But some people may experience vision that appears blurred when they become anxious.
Other people may also experience blurred vision as a symptom of another condition associated with their anxiety. Studies on the link between these two conditions are limited, so more research is needed.
If you’re concerned about your anxiety levels, help is available. If you’re experiencing blurred vision, it’s important to reach out to your doctor for an official diagnosis.