You've always had clear vision. But now, you notice that things seem blurry. What could the problem be?

Sudden, blurred vision can stem from a variety of problems. Some, like a detached retina, are serious. Others, such as a migraine, are moderately dangerous. And still others, such as eyestrain, are mild. (Learn more)

It's wise to discuss any sudden vision changes with your doctor, but the severity of your problem will determine whether that talk happens in an appointment or in the emergency room. (Learn more)

Regardless of the cause of your sudden, blurred vision, your doctor will play a role in helping you to heal. Some serious conditions require surgery, but others can ease with medications, rest, or both. (Learn more)

How Serious Is Your Sudden, Blurry Vision?

glasses held by boy

The term sudden, blurred vision seems comprehensive. Read it, and you may believe you have a clear understanding of what the symptom looks like. You may even believe you know what condition it stems from. In reality, blurred vision is linked to a variety of conditions. Some are serious, and others are less so.

Serious Causes

Significant sources of blurry vision tend to come on rapidly. You may not notice any problem in one moment, but after your next blink, everything changes. Do nothing, and the blurriness tends to worsen.

Serious conditions that often cause this issue include:

  • Detached retina. Your retinal tissue sits at the back of your eye, and it should be firmly attached. When it separates from the nourishing blood vessels below it, blurred vision takes hold. The National Eye Institute says you may also notice flashes of light, specks that float into your visual field, or a shadow that seems to sweep into your sightline.
  • Stroke. Clots that block blood flow cause strokes, and these episodes can be deadly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says blurred vision from a stroke can impact one eye or both. Other symptoms include numbness, confusion, difficulty with coordination, and severe headache.
  • Macular degeneration. There are two forms of this condition, including a "wet" form and a "dry" form. The wet version of the disease causes sudden blurred vision. According to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, only about 15 percent of people with macular degeneration have this form of the disease.
  • Eye injury. Chemical burns, penetrating objects, and deep scrapes can all lead to blurred vision. These very painful injuries typically stem from an incident you can remember, such as a car accident or lab explosion.

Moderate Causes

While some causes of sudden, blurry vision are very serious, others are less so. They still require treatment, but they may not worsen rapidly. They include:

  • People with diabetes need to keep their blood sugar levels under tight control. A slip can lead to an overcorrection or an undercorrection, and that can cause blurred vision. You may also experience blurred vision due to some types of insulin treatment.
  • Some types of bacterial and viral infections cause eye tissues to swell. Eyelids may press on the globe and distort your vision. Or the light-capturing parts of your eye may swell. Blurred vision is the result.
  • More than 38 million people in the United States have migraines, experts say. When an episode hits, they may experience sudden blurred vision paired with light sensitivity, nausea, flashes of light, and intense headache.

Mild Causes

Some causes of blurred vision are mild. While they come on quickly, they may not worsen as the minutes pass. They may stay the same or even improve with time.

Mild causes of blurred vision include:

  • Eyestrain. Staring too long at a computer screen, or peering at a book in a darkened room, puts significant pressure on your eyes. Muscles can grow weary, and blurred vision can set in. While this does not happen suddenly, you may only notice the problem when you look away from your task. In your mind, the issue might seem new.
  • Changing eyesight. As we age, our eyes grow less flexible. Muscles can't pull with the strength they once did. These changes can lead to blurred vision, says the American Optometric Association, especially when you are trying to read print in a darkened room. Again, this is not a sudden change. But if you rarely read in a situation like this, your inability to do so may seem sudden to you.
  • Intoxication. Imbibing too much alcohol can dull your senses and blunt your eyesight. You may notice blurred vision, along with a lack of coordination and a sense of nausea.

This is not a comprehensive account of all the conditions that can cause sudden blurred vision. But this list can give you an idea of the many varied sources of vision shifts.

What Should You Do Next?

perspective of someone with blurry vision

The treatment you need varies, depending on the source of your vision change and the severity of that condition. But in general, sudden blurriness requires diagnosis and treatment.

Consider these steps if you believe your blurriness is:

  • The serious medical conditions we listed above (stroke, retinal detachment, wet macular degeneration, and eye injury) require immediate attention. In fact, these can be considered medical emergencies. Get help as soon as you can, and head right for the emergency room.
  • Research suggests than one person in four goes to the emergency room to get help for moderate conditions, even though that is not the right setting to get assistance. If you have an ocular issue, such as an infection, call your eye doctor and explain what's happening. If you have a health issue, like diabetes, call your primary care doctor instead. If you are unsure, call your primary care doctor and ask how to proceed.
  • If the issue is serious and will not go away, make an appointment to discuss the problem with your doctor. There isn’t a big rush on mild issues, though delaying treatment too long can allow the condition to worsen.

Do not spend hours agonizing over whether to call your doctor for an urgent or non-urgent appointment. As the American Academy of Ophthalmology explains, you can't always tell how serious the problem really is. If you are not sure what to do, call and ask for advice. Do not try to treat the problem yourself without the help of your doctor.

Your Doctor’s Role in Your Treatment

Plenty of the conditions we've discussed here stem from ocular disorders. Your eye doctor is in the best position to draw up a treatment plan and help your vision to clear.

Some causes of blurred vision do not need intensive care. Researchers say, for example, that some eye infections clear within one to two weeks without antibiotics or another form of medication. But your doctor may ask to monitor your healing to ensure that things get better, not worse.

Some serious optical issues require surgery, including:

  • Penetrating injuries. If debris lodges within your eye, your doctor may need to perform surgery to remove the objects. Surgery may also help to repair holes and abrasions caused by those foreign bodies.
  • Retinal detachment. The American Academy of Ophthalmology says detached retinas are almost always treated with surgery. Often, doctors use lasers to seal the tear and tack tissues back in place.
  • Macular degeneration. At one point, experts say, doctors always used lasers to treat wet macular degeneration. But now, they can use medications combined with lasers to seal off leaking vessels and improve vision. Your doctor will devise the best treatment plan.

If you need surgery, your doctor will explain the risks and benefits before the procedure begins. You will know what will happen, and you will understand your role in the healing process.

If you both decide that surgery is the best path forward, follow your doctor’s instructions exactly. This includes steps to take prior to surgery as well as aftercare instructions. Proper care helps to ensure an optimal healing process and the best results from your surgery.

 

References

Retinal Detachment. (June 2019). National Eye Institute.

Stroke Signs and Symptoms. (November 2019). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wet Macular Degeneration. American Macular Degeneration Foundation.

Diabetes and Blurry Vision: What You Need to Know. (May 2019). Healthline.

Migraine Statistics. (June 2019). Migraine.com.

Adult Vision: 41 to 60 Years of Age. American Optometric Association.

First Aid for Eye Emergencies. Prevent Blindness.

Recognizing and Treating Eye Injuries. (February 2019). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Study: 1 in 4 ER Visits for Eye Problems Are Not Actually Emergencies. (February 2017). University of Michigan.

Conjunctivitis. (October 2013). JAMA.

Retinal Detachment: Torn or Detached Retina Treatment. (March 2016). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Macular Degeneration Treatments. American Macular Degeneration Foundation.

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