Your peripheral vision, also known as side vision, gives you the ability to see to the sides, above, and below a central point of focus straight ahead of you, without turning your head sideways or moving your eyes side-to-side or up and down. The loss of peripheral vision is often referred to as tunnel vision, and it can indeed make you feel like you’re in a tunnel or that the world is closing in around you.
Peripheral vision loss can cause difficulties with spatial orientation and mobility. People with peripheral vision loss are often more prone to trip over objects in their path or bump into other people. Many patients with peripheral vision loss also have impaired night vision.
You can lose peripheral vision at any age, but your risk increases with age since the underlying conditions linked to various eye conditions also increase with age. A damaged optic nerve, retina or affected areas of the brain responsible for processing visual input can lead you to peripheral vision loss.
While tunnel vision is usually permanent, there are also certain situations where it affects people temporarily. For example, people suffering from migraine headaches sometimes suffer from tunnel vision temporarily. It can affect either one of your eyes or both.
Peripheral Vision Loss Causes
The American Academy of Ophthalmology notes that peripheral vision loss is often caused by four conditions:
The second most common cause of blindness in the U.S, glaucoma causes damage to the optic nerve, which connects the eyeball to the brain. Over time, this optic nerve damage can cause peripheral vision loss, and if left untreated, can cause complete vision loss over time.
Because the disease has no early signs or symptoms until vision loss begins, glaucoma is often referred to as the “silent thief of sight.” Once the disease has advanced to the point that your vision is damaged, it’s usually too late to prevent or reverse peripheral vision loss.
High blood sugar levels from diabetes can damage the small blood vessels in the retina, which is the area of the eye that senses light. As damage progresses, changes to vision, including peripheral vision loss, become more evident.
The National Eye Institute estimates that approximately 40-45% percent of Americans diagnosed with diabetes have diabetic retinopathy to some degree. However, about 50% of them don’t yet know that they have the disease because their symptoms have not yet become problematic, or because they’ve skipped regular eye exams to screen for the disease.
This genetic condition damages the retina and can affect people at any age. Night blindness is usually the first noticeable symptom, but it may progress to being unable to distinguish colors, then to peripheral vision loss. Vision loss from retinitis pigmentosa varies from person to person depending on the type and progression rate of the disease.
In addition to these three eye diseases, peripheral vision loss can also be caused by droopy or heavy eyelids. When a heavy upper eyelid covers part of the eye that wouldn’t normally be covered, the field of vision is reduced and the eye is exposed to less light.
Patients often experience greatly improved peripheral vision after upper eyelid surgery, as more light is allowed to enter the eye. Many patients comment that they didn’t realize how much their vision was affected before surgery compared to after.
Treatments For Peripheral Vision Loss
If you ever experience a sudden decrease in peripheral vision, see your eye doctor immediately. Sudden loss of peripheral vision may indicate a detached retina, which is an emergency that must be treated as soon as possible to avoid permanent vision loss.
Unfortunately, there are no easy fixes to correct permanent loss of peripheral vision. With certain types of peripheral vision loss, special eyewear or optical devices can sometimes be added to your glasses prescription to expand your field of view.
If you have glaucoma, the best remedy for tunnel vision is prevention. You must take your glaucoma medication regularly to control high eye pressure, or you risk permanent optic nerve damage and development of blind spots in your visual field.
Likewise, if you have diabetic retinopathy, controlling your blood sugar levels and maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle can slow or prevent vision loss.
Some people benefit from certain techniques taught by sports vision specialists that are thought to strengthen peripheral parts of the field of vision.
If you have permanent loss of peripheral vision, you should consider visiting a low vision specialist who can advise you about options that might help with mobility problems caused by tunnel vision.
If you have diabetes, a family history of glaucoma or retinitis pigmentosa, or droopy heavy eyelids, don’t wait for signs of peripheral vision loss before going to an ophthalmologist for a comprehensive exam.
Baptist Eye Surgeons is an ophthalmological practice in Knoxville, TN, and Morristown, TN, dedicated to providing quality eye care to patients whose needs range from routine comprehensive eye examinations to treatment for vision loss from common or complex eye conditions. To meet our doctors and learn more about our specialities, visit our website or give us a call at 865-579-3920 for more information or to schedule an appointment.