What Causes Visual Disturbance?

Medically reviewed by University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine on October 25, 2016Written by Kimberly Holland

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. Read More

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, or diplopia
  • partial or total blindness
  • colorblindness
  • blurred vision
  • halos
  • pain

Diplopia

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

There are two types of diplopia: monocular and binocular.

  • Monocular: Double vision that affects only one eye is called monocular diplopia. It can be the result of a physical change to the lens over your eye, the cornea, or the retinal surface. This type of double vision occurs with only one eye open.
  • Binocular: Double vision that only happens with both eyes open may be the result of poorly aligned eyes. It could also be nerve damage, which prevents your brain from properly layering the images your eyes are seeing.

Double vision can be a result of miscommunication in your brain. You experience double vision because your brain can’t overlay the two images that your eyes see.

Blindness

Partial blindness means you can see light as well as some degree of what’s around you. Total blindness refers to a condition when you can no longer see light. People with vision worse than 20/200 are considered legally blind. Some cases may be corrected with:

  • glasses
  • surgery
  • contact lenses

In many cases, people with partial or complete blindness can’t restore their sight.

Colorblindness

Individuals who are colorblind can’t see colors in the same way that individuals with normal eyes can. 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 can’t receive and read visual messages. Corrective or contact lenses can fix most of cases of blurry vision. If your blurry vision is caused by another condition, it may require additional treatment. If you notice blurry vision that happens over a short amount of time, you should see a doctor as this may be an eye emergency.

Halos

Halos appear as circles of light around objects. They can be a sign of multiple different eye conditions and should be evaluated by an eye doctor.

Pain

Pain or discomfort in your eye can vary depending on the underlying condition. It may feel like a scratching sensation when you open and shut your eyelid. A continuous throbbing that isn’t relieved by closing your eye is another type of pain

What causes visual disturbances?

Visual disturbances can be caused by several conditions.

Double vision (diplopia)

Causes of double vision include:

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 ones include:

Colorblindness

Colorblindness is more common in men than in women. The most common form is red-green color deficiency. Common causes for poor color vision 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
  • heredity
  • macular degeneration, or inflammation of the optic nerve
  • optic neuritis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • sickle cell anemia

Blurred vision

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

  • 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
  • stroke

Halos

Halos can be caused by any of the following:

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

Pain

There are many causes of eye pain, and a few of them are listed here:

  • 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 sinus infection
  • stye, an inflamed oil gland that develops on your eyelids

Eye pain should be evaluated by a doctor, as some causes can result in irreversible damage to the eyes.

Who is at risk for visual disturbances?

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

Diagnosing visual disturbances

If any of the visual disturbances begins suddenly and unexpectedly, see a doctor as soon as possible. Although the visual disturbance may be the result of a minor problem, vision disturbances can be the first symptom of other serious conditions, such as:

  • aneurysm
  • glaucoma
  • brain tumors
  • stroke

Your doctor will likely perform several diagnostic tests to determine the cause of your visual disturbance. These tests might include:

  • physical exam
  • eye exam
  • 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 issue, you can develop a plan for treatment. In some cases, the disturbance will go away naturally. For example, blurry vision caused by a headache will usually resolve when the headache recedes. Your doctor may prescribe medicine to prevent future headaches. They may choose to prescribe medicine that you can take when a headache that causes visual complications begins.

There are several common treatments for visual disturbances.

  • Medication: Drugs can sometimes treat underlying conditions so that they no longer cause symptoms.
  • Dietary changes: If you have uncontrolled diabetes, but are able to lose weight and get control of the disease, the changes in your diet can sometimes prevent visual disturbances.
  • Glasses, contact lenses, or magnifying devices: These may be able to correct vision disturbances that can’t be corrected with another treatment.
  • Surgery: When necessary, surgery can help relieve or repair damaged nerves and muscles.
Medically reviewed by University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine on October 25, 2016Written by Kimberly Holland

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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.

Medically reviewed by University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine on October 25, 2016Written by Kimberly Holland
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