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Why Is My Vision Blurry?

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A woman with her glasses off, and her hands on her head and her eyes closed, due to blurry vision

Blurred vision can occur for many different reasons and it can be really uncomfortable.

Blurred vision can also be a sign of a natural refractive error, eye strain from staring at a screen, or a migraine. If your vision is normally clear and has just suddenly become blurred, you should seek immediate medical attention. 

Is It An Emergency?

A sudden change in your vision could be a sign of something serious. Go to the emergency room (ER) immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms: 

  • Eye pain or injury
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Sudden partial/full vision loss
  • Loss of one area of your vision
  • Sudden onset of visual floaters/flashes
  • Facial droop, slurred speech, or one-sided weakness

You should seek immediate medical attention if you experience sudden blurred vision as a result of physical trauma or while in treatment for any medical condition, especially diabetes, HIV, or cancer.

Stroke

A stroke occurs when the brain’s blood supply is reduced or blocked. This prevents your brain from getting the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function. A stroke is a medical emergency and getting treatment right away is crucial to prevent brain damage.

Go to the ER immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Double vision
  • Facial drooping 
  • Trouble walking
  • Sudden, severe headache
  • Blurred vision in one or both eyes
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding speech
  • Paralysis/numbness in your face, arms, or legs 

Retinal Detachment

Retinal detachment occurs when the retina partially or fully detaches from the back of the eye. This prevents light signals from being transmitted to the brain, resulting in some degree of vision loss.

An injury to the eye or head, eye disease, extreme myopia, or other medical conditions can cause your retina to detach. Some patients have thinner retinas that are more susceptible to detaching. The symptoms to watch for include: 

  • Flashing lights
  • Floating spots
  • Partial or full loss of vision
  • “Veil” or “curtain” overcoming your vision

Retinal detachment can result in permanent blindness if not treated immediately. Go to the ER if you are injured or experience any of these symptoms.

Wet Macular Degeneration

Wet macular degeneration is one of two types of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and occurs when there’s sudden leaking or bleeding under the macula. This is caused by weak blood vessels in the eye. Wet macular degeneration often occurs rapidly and requires immediate attention.

The signs and symptoms of wet macular degeneration include:

  • Difficulty recognizing faces
  • Decreased vibrance of colour
  • Reduced vision in one or both eyes
  • Need for brighter light while reading
  • Visual distortions, like straight lines looking wavy
  • Well-defined blurry/blind spot in your field of vision

There are treatments available to slow the progression of this disease and preserve existing vision. However, there isn’t a cure for AMD, so getting immediate medical attention for wet macular degeneration is the only way to prevent further vision loss. 

Angle Closure Glaucoma

Angle-closure glaucoma occurs when the iris protrudes forward in the eye, narrowing or blocking drainage from the cornea. When fluid can’t circulate through the eye, pressure in the eye increases which can result in partial or total vision loss. Symptoms of angle-closure glaucoma include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Eye pain/redness
  • Severe headache
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Halos around lights

If these symptoms occur suddenly, it can be a sign of acute angle-closure glaucoma which is a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience these symptoms.  

Endophthalmitis

Endophthalmitis is an eye infection that affects the tissues and fluids inside the eyeball. If not treated quickly, this infection can result in permanent blindness. There are two types of endophthalmitis:

  • Exogenous Endophthalmitis: Occurs when the infection comes from outside the body (bacteria or fungi gets into the eye from an injury or procedure) 
  • Endogenous Endophthalmitis: Occurs when the infection comes from inside the body (something like a blood infection that spreads to the eye)

Symptoms can occur gradually or come on suddenly. These symptoms include:

  • Redness
  • Swollen/puffy eyelids
  • Decreased or blurred vision
  • White/yellow pus or discharge from eyes
  • Eye pain that gets progressively worse over time 

If you experience any of these symptoms, or if your eye has been punctured, go to the ER right away. 

A blurry first person view of a person's hand

Refractive Errors

Your eyes work hard to turn light signals into visuals for our brain. 

When light enters the eye, it passes through the cornea which helps bend the light. Then, the light will pass through the pupil to the lens which helps focus the light on the retina. Our retinas transmit these signals to our brain through the optic nerve. This is how we see. 

Refractive errors occur when there are irregularities in the structures of our eyes. Refractive errors are very common and are usually no cause for concern.

Myopia

Myopia, also known as nearsightedness, occurs when the eyeball is too long or the cornea has too much curvature. As a result, objects in the distance appear blurred while objects in a close range appear sharp and clear. 

This is a very common condition, affecting around 30% of Canadians. People who are nearsighted exert more effort trying to see far away. You can easily correct your vision with prescription glasses or contact lenses.

Hyperopia

Hyperopia, also known as farsightedness, occurs when the eyeball is too short or the cornea lacks proper curvature. As a result, objects in a close range often appear blurred while objects at a distance appear sharp and clear.

This condition is a common refractive error in many patients. If you are farsighted, your eyes are exerting more effort to keep your vision clear as possible. You can easily correct your vision with the proper prescription.

Presbyopia

Presbyopia is a condition that occurs naturally as we age in which the crystalline lens of the eye loses elasticity. Many patients report changes in their vision after the age of 40, like difficulty reading small text.

Symptoms of this condition include blurred vision at a close range, trouble reading in dim light, and eye fatigue with frequent headaches. If you notice yourself holding reading materials at arm’s length, you may have presbyopia. This condition can usually be managed with the help of reading glasses or an updated prescription.

Astigmatism

An astigmatism is a common eye condition that can contribute to blurred vision. There are varying degrees of astigmatisms, but all astigmatisms are defined by the irregular shape of the cornea or inner lens. The cornea and lens of the eye are supposed to be circular, but when someone has an astigmatism, the cornea or lens can appear cylindrical. 

Astigmatisms are common in people with refractive errors like myopia, but usually aren’t cause for concern. Some astigmatisms cause no issues while others can cause blurred vision, headaches, and discomfort. Fortunately, most astigmatisms can be corrected with a proper prescription. 

Common Causes of Blurry Vision 

Dry Eye

Dry eye is a condition in which a person is unable to produce the tears needed for healthy eyes and clear vision. The tears may not be the right chemical composition or there are just not enough tears being produced.  

Symptoms of dry eye include: 

  • Stinging or burning sensation 
  • Itching & scratching 
  • Fluctuating vision
  • Watering of one or both eyes

Some people experience dry eyes throughout their childhood and adulthood.

Dry eye can occur as a natural part of aging or as a side effect from certain medications. This condition can also arise as a result of environmental factors or an underlying medical condition.

Fortunately, there are many remedies to help manage or cure dry eye. Talk to your optometrist about treatment plans that work for your eyes.

Digital Eye Strain

Digital eye strain is becoming an increasingly common condition for people of all ages. Our eyes exert more effort when we’re looking at our screens because blue light is harder to focus on. As a result, you might feel fatigued or experience discomfort in your eyes.

Other symptoms of eye strain include:

  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision 
  • Watery eyes
  • Dry eyes
  • Sore shoulders, neck, or back 
  • Light sensitivity 

If you experience eye strain, try using the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes take a 20-second break from your screen by looking at something about 20 feet away. You can also prevent digital eye strain by ensuring you blink regularly and adjust your screen to fit the lighting in your room.

Other Causes

Sudden or gradual changes in your vision may occur as a result of other causes, including:

Correct Your Blurry Vision 

In most cases, your blurry vision can be resolved by visiting a doctor or optometrist. The best way to help your eyes stay healthy and functioning properly is to schedule and attend regular eye exams. If you have any concerns about your eye health or you experience any changes to your vision, contact your optometrist right away.

Written by Shonah Finlay

Dr. Finlay grew up by the gold mines in South Africa and knew from a young age she wanted to follow a medically related career. She applied to and was accepted to study optometry at the former Rand Afrikaans University in South Africa. During her last year of studies, Dr. Finlay worked on the Train of Hope: South Africa’s Phelophepa. This custom-built train (now 2) travels throughout rural South Africa to deliver top-quality primary healthcare to disadvantaged communities. It was a wonderful experience to bring sight to so many people that otherwise do without. Those memories always remind her of why she loves practicing optometry.
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