The sudden loss of vision, whether it happens rapidly in a matter of minutes or gradually over a few days, is a severe medical emergency that necessitates immediate medical attention. Various factors can cause this condition, ranging from injuries to underlying medical conditions like retinal detachment, optic neuropathy, or stroke. It can affect one or both eyes. If an individual experiences sudden vision loss, it is imperative to seek prompt medical treatment as it can help prevent further damage and increase the chances of restoring vision.
Blurred Vision vs. Sudden Vision Loss
Blurred vision is a type of visual disturbance that makes objects appear hazy, out of focus, or distorted. It can happen in both eyes or just one and occur gradually or suddenly. Other symptoms, such as eye strain, headaches, or eye fatigue, may accompany blurred vision.
On the other hand, sudden vision loss is a medical emergency involving rapid vision loss in one or both eyes. Vision may become cloudy, blurry, or may disappear altogether. It can occur within seconds to days and may be painless. It can also be accompanied by eye discomfort, redness, or a headache.
In general, blurred vision refers to an available reduction in visual acuity. In contrast, sudden vision loss involves complete or near-complete sight removal, often occurring rapidly and requiring immediate medical attention. (Groth, Leah, and Amanda Gardner)
Symptoms & Causes of Vision Loss
Some common symptoms include vision becoming cloudy or blurry, disappearing altogether, or having flashing lights or speckles in the visual field known as floaters. Additionally, sudden vision loss might affect only part of the vision field. Though sometimes painless, it can be linked to eye discomfort, redness, or a headache. Pay attention to sudden vision loss, even when the changes are partial or self-resolving, as the phenomenon is potentially severe.
Retinal detachment, eye trauma, and the blockage of blood flow to the retinal artery or the retinal vein can all cause sudden vision loss. This condition can also happen due to the inflammation of the blood vessels supplying the eye or the optic nerves, contributing to vision loss. This can happen to anyone at any age as a result of a head injury.
Alternatively, sudden vision loss can result from blockages in blood flow to the back of the brain’s occipital lobe, a common cause of sudden vision loss resulting from a stroke. (Muth, MD)
Treating Sudden Vision Loss
If you or someone you know experiences sudden vision loss, it’s essential to seek immediate medical attention by calling 911 or going to an emergency room. The treatment approach largely depends on the underlying cause of vision loss but may include the following:
- Medications such as eye drops, tablets, or injections
- Steroids to reduce inflammation
- Anti-infective medications to treat infections
Preventing Sudden Vision Loss
Specific measures can help reduce the risk of sudden vision loss. These include:
- Wearing safety equipment during activities like sports or work
- Practicing good hand hygiene to prevent infections
- Avoiding touching the eyes
- Following prescribed instructions for the use and care of contact lenses to prevent infections
- Managing chronic health conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure
The causes of sudden vision loss are diverse, ranging from trauma to strokes, and treatment options depend on the underlying condition. Quick diagnosis and treatment can increase the likelihood of restoring vision.
When to Go to the ER
An emergency room is equipped to handle vision emergencies. A board-certified emergency physician will inspect your eye and ask questions about how the condition happened if it is an injury or if you had noticeable symptoms. Because it can be a symptom of stroke, sudden vision loss requires the expertise in determining the cause and creating a treatment protocol accordingly. Do not drive yourself to the ER, be sure you are transported by a friend or family member, or call 911 for an ambulance.
Christopher C. Muth, MD. “Sudden Vision Loss.” JAMA, JAMA Network, 8 Aug. 2017, jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2647871#:~:text=Common%20causes%20of%20sudden%20vision,the%20eye%20(retinal%20detachment).
Cleveland Clinic. “Sudden Vision Loss: Common Causes & Treatments.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/24803-sudden-vision-loss.
Cleveland Clinic. “Blurred Vision: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/24262-blurred-vision#:~:text=You%20should%20go%20to%20an,as%20difficulty%20speaking%20or%20moving.
Groth, Leah, and Amanda Gardner. “15 Reasons You Have Blurred Vision-and What to Do about It.” Health, 11 Sept. 2022, www.health.com/condition/eye-health/blurry-vision-causes.