Whether you’re driving a car or walking into a room, your peripheral vision helps you move around safely. It lets you see things without moving your head.
But some conditions can interfere with peripheral vision and lead to tunnel vision, also called tubular vision. This type of peripheral vision loss affects your 360-degree visual field.
There are several possible causes of tunnel vision. Some conditions only affect the eyes, while others involve the entire body.
Read on to learn why tunnel vision happens, common symptoms to watch out for, and treatment options to explore.
Peripheral sight, or side vision, is what you see on the outer edges of your visual field when looking straight ahead.
Tunnel vision occurs when this peripheral sight is lost. If this happens, you’ll only be able to see something if you’re directly looking at it.
This type of vision loss is primarily caused by issues with the rods and cones — two types of photoreceptors, or light-sensing cells — in the retina. The retina helps you see by recognizing light and sending information to the brain.
Damage to the brain can also cause tunnel vision. For example, a stroke can damage the brain along the visual pathway and cause tunnel vision even though there’s no damage to the eye itself.
Here are seven possible causes of tunnel vision and what you should do next if you think you know what the cause may be.
Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a group of eye conditions that cause vision loss over time. It’s also called hereditary retinal dystrophy.
RP is caused by genetic mutations that affect rod cells. The mutations affect the function of the rods, ultimately damaging them.
The first symptom of RP is usually night vision loss, or nyctalopia. Next, side vision slowly decreases, potentially resulting in tunnel vision.
Sometimes, RP can lead to complete vision loss.
Glaucoma can also cause permanent vision loss in your peripheral or central vision, especially as glaucoma progresses to an advanced stage.
Optic neuritis is inflammation of the optic nerve. This makes it difficult for the optic nerve to send signals to the brain, causing tunnel vision.
If optic neuritis isn’t due to an underlying condition, it may go away on its own. But if it’s caused by another medical condition, you might need treatment to resolve the symptoms.
Commonly, optic neuritis is the first symptom of multiple sclerosis. It can also be caused by an infection.
A retinal detachment is a medical emergency.
This happens when the retina separates from the back of the eye, causing peripheral vision loss. Treatment can resolve the symptoms.
Without immediate treatment, a retinal detachment can lead to total vision loss.
Migraine involves intense head pain. Visual symptoms, like tunnel vision, can happen before or during a migraine episode.
Visual symptoms due to a migraine episode are usually temporary and last anywhere from 5 to 60 minutes.
A stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is blocked. It may also occur if a blood vessel in the brain bursts.
A stroke can injure part of the brain, potentially reducing your visual field, which includes peripheral and central sight.
Commonly, visual field loss due to a stroke affects both eyes and is permanent.
Diabetic retinopathy affects people with diabetes.
This condition happens when high blood sugar levels injure the vessels in the retina, causing blood leakage and vision issues like peripheral vision loss.
Tunnel vision makes it difficult to see what’s on the outer edges of your vision.
This means that you’ll be able to see things straight ahead, but the sides of your vision will look blurry. This includes vision on all sides, including the left, right, and above or below your direct line of sight.
Other symptoms that can indicate tunnel vision include:
- bumping into objects
- frequent falls
- difficulty reading and driving
- difficulty walking in crowded areas
- poor night vision
Tunnel vision can affect one or both eyes.
The best way to manage tunnel vision is to treat the underlying cause. This can help prevent it from getting worse.
If your tunnel vision is due to migraine episodes, try to avoid common migraine triggers.
It’s also a good idea to see an eye doctor regularly. They can provide recommendations for keeping your eyes healthy and treat vision disorders before tunnel vision develops or gets worse.
If you already have tunnel vision, try rearranging your home into a safer setup. This might involve placing furniture farther apart so you’re less likely to bump into it.
Talk with a doctor
Talk with a doctor as soon as you experience any significant vision changes that affect your daily life, or if you have:
- eye pain
- sudden or increased blurry vision
- sudden or increased floaters (retinal detachment)
- flashing lights (retinal detachment)
- vision loss
It’s especially important to talk with a doctor if you have signs of a detached retina. This is a medical emergency and needs immediate treatment.
Treatment depends on the cause of your tunnel vision, including:
Prescription treatment may include:
- Eye drops. Medicated eye drops can help reduce high eye pressure caused by glaucoma.
- Blood pressure-lowering medications. If your tunnel vision is related to high blood pressure, medication can help manage your blood pressure.
- Steroids. If you have optic neuritis, intravenous steroids can help reduce inflammation.
Laser treatment may be used to treat conditions such as:
- diabetic retinopathy
- retinal detachment
Some conditions can be treated with the following surgical procedures:
- Electronic retinal implants. This option can help restore some vision in people with RP.
- Vitrectomy. A vitrectomy is used to treat diabetic retinopathy. It involves removing blood that has leaked from the eye’s blood vessels.
- Glaucoma surgery. With this surgery, a doctor drains fluid out of the eye to reduce pressure in the area.
Tunnel vision happens along with peripheral vision loss. It can cause symptoms like difficulty driving, reading, and walking in crowded spaces. If you have tunnel vision, you might also frequently bump into objects.
For best treatment results, talk with a doctor as soon as you notice any significant changes in your vision. With early diagnosis, a doctor can help develop an effective treatment plan to manage your symptoms.