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Tunnel Vision (Peripheral Vision Loss): Symptoms, Causes, Treatments

July 22, 2021

Tunnel vision describes a condition where there is peripheral vision loss. It can have a variety of causes and can be temporary or permanent.

What’s Tunnel Vision?

Eye tunnel vision describes a condition in which central vision is apparent but peripheral vision is missing. There can be loss of peripheral vision in the right eye, loss of peripheral vision in the left eye, or loss of peripheral vision in both. Tunnel vision can be rather alarming, especially if one has never experienced it before.

What Does Tunnel Vision Look Like?

What Does Tunnel Vision Look Like?

What is tunnel vision like? If you have it or have had it in the past, you know all too well. Tunnel vision gives the appearance of looking through a narrow tube. Peripheral vision is obscured, causing a constricted field of view. Regardless of whether there is loss of peripheral vision in one eye or both, it may only be noticeable when one eye is closed. That’s because the brain has an exceptional ability to compensate for missing vision, and the other eye will fill in the gaps.

Tunnel Vision Symptoms

When one has tunnel vision, central objects will be visible, while anything in the periphery will be obscured. Depending on the severity and whether one eye is affected or both, one may or may not notice the change in vision immediately. Peripheral vision loss symptoms include the following:

  • Bumping into objects or people
  • Trouble navigating crowds
  • Difficulties driving
  • Tripping
  • Falling
  • Trouble seeing at night

Especially if there is a sudden loss of peripheral vision, these symptoms can be frightening.

If the cause is gradual, adaptations may develop, such as learning to look directly at something to see it or turning the head more often.

What Causes Tunnel Vision?

What Causes Tunnel Vision

If you’re wondering what causes tunnel vision, there is no single answer to that question. Causes of peripheral vision loss are numerous and usually cannot be identified without a visit to the eye doctor. Here are some of the more common tunnel vision causes.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a common ocular condition that affects the optic nerve, the pathway that sends visual information from the eye to the brain. Glaucoma is often, but not always, caused by an increase in pressure inside the eye(s).

Glaucoma is an insidious condition, often not noticeable in its early stages. It often affects both eyes but can start in one eye in its early stages. By the time tunnel vision becomes apparent, glaucoma is rather advanced. It’s important to get regular dilated eye exams to screen for glaucoma.

Stroke

Some people will experience peripheral vision loss after stroke, usually affecting both eyes. It’s a good idea to have your peripheral vision checked if you’ve recently had a stroke. This is done using a visual field test at the eye doctor’s office. The good news is that some people experience partial or full recovery of stroke-related visual loss over time.

Migraine

Migraine can cause a variety of visual disturbances, called an aura. Some people will see shapes and movement, while others will experience a temporary loss of peripheral vision. Aura should only last about 20-60 minutes. If migraine tunnel vision has not resolved in that time frame, or if it’s associated with other symptoms, one should consult with a healthcare professional.  

When it comes to what causes loss of peripheral vision, migraine is certainly one of the more benign reasons. However, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about your symptoms and have your eyes examined to ensure nothing else is going on.

This list of causes of peripheral vision loss is certainly not exhaustive, as there are many more potential causes of tunnel vision.

Tunnel Vision Treatment

Tunnel Vision Treatment

While there are treatments for some peripheral loss of vision causes, the vision loss itself is often irreversible.

Glaucoma is treatable with eye drops, procedures, and/or surgery, but the earlier it is diagnosed, the better. The vision that is lost as a result of glaucoma cannot be regained.

Peripheral vision loss after stroke improves in about half of patients. It is important to treat the underlying causes of a stroke to ensure it doesn’t recur.

Migraine tunnel vision is temporary. If migraines are occurring frequently, a doctor may be able to prescribe medication to decrease their frequency.

When tunnel vision is permanent, certain tools can make it easier to manage. There are professionals dedicated to the practice of visual rehabilitation. They can make recommendations on how to optimally use your vision as it is. They have access to a variety of teaching tools and devices to help with this, including glasses with prism.

Is it Temporary or Permanent?

When loss of peripheral vision occurs, it’s hard to know whether it’s temporary or permanent. Don’t wait to determine that, though. See your doctor as soon as possible.

Loss of Peripheral Vision Prevention

Loss of Peripheral Vision Prevention

The best thing one can do to prevent peripheral vision loss is to take care of their overall health. By controlling blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol, the risk of ocular complications such as stroke or diabetic retinopathy goes down.

Getting regular dilated eye exams is also of paramount importance. Conditions such as glaucoma can be identified and treated, slowing vision loss.

It can’t hurt to close one eye or the other periodically, to keep watch on how each eye is seeing individually. Visual problems affecting one eye only may not be noticeable when both eyes are open. Closing one eye at a time to check vision in each eye can help to identify any issues requiring attention.

Conclusion

Tunnel vision can be frightening, especially if you don’t know what’s causing it. If you experience a sudden loss of peripheral vision in one eye or both, be sure to see your eye doctor right away. Some causes of tunnel vision are reversible or treatable, so the sooner you’re seen, the better. Please call our office at (312) 444-1111 if you are experiencing tunnel vision or any other vision disturbance.

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Dr. Colman R. Kraff

Committed to advancing new technologies in the field of ophthalmology, Dr. Colman Kraff helped to pioneer laser vision correction. In February of 1991, as part of a five-site, U.S., FDA clinical trial team, Dr. Kraff successfully performed the first excimer laser procedures in the Chicagoland area using the VISX Excimer Laser.

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