What causes vision loss?

A wide variety of diseases, disorders and conditions can cause vision loss. Vision loss may originate in the eyes themselves or may be caused by many different conditions that affect the whole body. Trauma, infections, inflammation, and the aging process can all result in vision loss.

Eye-related causes of vision loss

Vision loss may be caused by conditions affecting the eye including:

  • Age-related macular degeneration (disorder that causes loss of vision in the macula, the area of the retina responsible for seeing detail in the central vision)
  • Cataracts (clouding or loss of transparency of the lens of the eye)
  • Eye infection or inflammation
  • Eye trauma
  • Eye tumors
  • Glaucoma (disorder that damages the optic nerve, often as a result of increased pressure in the eye)
  • Presbyopia (hardening of the lens leading to decreased ability to focus the eye)
  • Refractive errors such as myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), and astigmatism (irregularly shaped cornea)
  • Retinal detachment (detachment of the light-sensing layer inside your eye from the blood vessels that provide it oxygen and nutrients)
  • Retinitis pigmentosa (hereditary degeneration of the retina)
  • Retinopathy of prematurity (abnormal development of blood vessels in the eye related to premature birth)

Other causes of vision loss

Vision loss can also be caused by certain medications and by conditions that affect the brain or other parts of the body including:

  • Diabetes (chronic disease that affects your body’s ability to use sugar for energy)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Migraines
  • Multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord causing weakness, coordination, balance difficulties, and other problems)
  • Vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels)

Serious or life-threatening causes of vision loss

In some cases, vision loss may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Brain tumor
  • Head injury
  • Increased intracranial pressure (high pressure inside the skull that is often due to brain swelling or hemorrhage)
  • Stroke
  • Transient ischemic attack (temporary stroke-like symptoms that may be a warning sign of an impending stroke)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of vision loss

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your vision loss including:

  • When did you first notice your vision loss?
  • Can you describe your vision loss?
  • Is your vision loss constant, or does it come and go?
  • Was your vision loss accompanied by any other symptoms?
  • Did anything unusual, such as an injury or illness, precede the symptoms?
  • Have you ever experienced vision loss before?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • Do you have any other medical conditions?
  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of vision loss?

Because vision loss can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Brain damage
  • Disability
  • Loss of vision and blindness
  • Paralysis
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection

References:

Vision problems. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003029.htm. Accessed May 9, 2011.

Blindness and vision loss. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003040.htm. Accessed May 9, 2011.

INTRODUCTION

What is vision loss?

Vision loss is any reduction in the ability to see, including blurred vision, cloudy vision, double vision, blind spots, poor night vision, and loss of peripheral vision (tunnel vision). Vision loss may affect one or both eyes, it may occur gradually or suddenly, and it may be partial or complete. Vision changes may originate in the eyes themselves or may be caused by many different condit... Read more about vision lossintroduction

SYMPTOMS

What other symptoms might occur with vision loss?

Vision loss may accompany other symptoms, which will vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Conditions that affect vision can also involve other body systems.... Read more about vision losssymptoms

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Eyes and Vision


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