There are two main components of your field of vision: your central vision and your peripheral vision. The vision formed in the middle of your eye is your central vision, and the side vision is called your peripheral vision.
Peripheral, or indirect, vision allows you to see things to the side of you (things in your periphery) without turning your head. (Learn More)
A visual field test can help to diagnose potential problems within your field of vision, and it includes testing your peripheral vision. (Learn More) There are some DIY at-home visual field exams you can do to determine if your peripheral vision is in good shape. (Learn More)
If you are concerned about your peripheral vision, or you are at risk for peripheral vision loss, talk to your eye doctor and have your field of vision tested professionally.
Peripheral Vision Explained
Your field of vision includes both what you can see clearly right in front of you and what you can see less clearly off to the sides.
Your central vision, made up of the fovea, only makes up a very small portion of your visual field. It is responsible for helping you see things clearly and in high resolution. The rest of your visual field, your peripheral vision, is lower resolution.
Peripheral vision is less direct than central vision. It helps you to see things to the side of you and objects that are not directly in your central vision line of sight.
Peripheral vision accounts for around 100 degrees of your 170-degree field of vision. It allows you to see scenes and objects around you without the need to turn your head to take them in.
Nerve cells and rods outside of your eye’s macula, or the center of your retina, make up your peripheral vision. Peripheral vision can help you to:
- See better in the dark and low-light conditions.
- Observe things out of the “corner of your eye.”
- Detect motion.
- Keep you from running into things.
- Sort through traffic and crowds with improved visual perception.
- Read and understand material faster by helping you to scan text outside of your focus to better comprehend it.
- Drive safely by helping you to quickly distinguish things happening around you.
Testing Your Field of Vision
A visual field test can help to determine how much your eyes can see and the range of your field of vision. There are several tests an ophthalmologist can perform to spot any changes or decline in your field of vision, including issues with your peripheral vision.
Some of these methods are described by the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
Confrontation visual field test:
The doctor will cover one of your eyes and tell you to focus on something directly in front of you (in your central vision line of sight). They will then hold up fingers in your peripheral field of vision and ask you how many you see while directing you to keep looking at the target in front of you.
Automated perimetry test:
This test uses an instrument called a perimeter. You’ll look into it while lights are flashed in various parts of the bowl-shaped perimeter. You will keep looking at a center target and push a button when you see the lights.This test uses a machine to determine your visual threshold and how far your field of vision extends. The doctor can also use the perimeter to show an optical illusion of vertical bars, called frequency doubling perimetry, to check for vision loss in your field of vision.
Kinetic visual field testing:
Similar to an automated perimetry test, this field of vision test uses moving light targets as opposed to blinking or flashing lights to assess your range and field of vision.
This test requires your eyes to be dilated and held open while a small electrode is placed onto your cornea. You are directed to look into a machine that flashes lights, so the electrode can measure the electrical activity in your eye in response to the lights.
As you age, your field of vision gets smaller and narrower. People lose an average of 1 to 3 degrees in their field of vision every 10 years or so.
Peripheral vision loss (PVL) is often caused by eye diseases and conditions that are common in the elderly population, such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. When the field of vision is less than 20 degrees, a person is considered legally blind.
It is important to have your eyes tested by an eye care professional regularly. Routine vision checks can keep track of any changes. Your doctor can then diagnose any potential eye problems early on, ensuring the best opportunity to manage and treat them.
At-Home Peripheral Vision Tests
While regular eye checkups with a professional are important, there are also some ways you can test your peripheral vision at home. These at-home tests can help you recognize any major issues that will require medical attention.
The Amsler grid test is primarily used to test your central field of vision, but it can help you determine if you have blind or blank spots in your field of vision and peripheral vision as well.
To do this test, you will check each eye separately and hold the grid about 14 inches away from your face. Focus on the dot in the middle, and you should be able to see the horizontal and vertical lines in the grid as straight and unbroken. If you are unable to see where the lines intersect, or if they are broken or distorted, this could mean that you have a blind spot in your field of vision.
You can test your peripheral vision with the help of someone else using similar techniques to those used by an eye doctor. Cover one eye at a time while focusing on something directly in front of you. Have a helper hold up fingers in your peripheral vision to see if you can tell them how many they are holding up. You can also have them move in and out to ensure that you are detecting motion and at what point you can see them in your field of vision.
You can also test your peripheral vision by building a kind of vision protractor with cardboard or craft board. You will use the board by holding it up under your eyes. Have a helper move strips of paper along the outer edge of the protractor, moving along the curve toward the center while you keep your eyes trained on the target in the middle. This can test your field of vision by noting the point you see the object enter into it.
Vision. (2017). Designing User Interfaces for an Aging Population.
Medical Definition of Peripheral Vision. MedicineNet.
Visual Field Test. (January 2019). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
Special Report on Aging and Vision Loss. (January 2013). American Foundation for the Blind (AFB).
Home Vision Tests. (November 2020). U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).
Put Your Peripheral Vision to the Test. (March 2016). Scientific American.