What Is Peripheral Vision and How Can You Lose It?
While most people are familiar with 20/20, or even 20/30 vision, there’s another type of vision worth understanding: peripheral vision.
Peripheral vision is the part of your sight that allows you to see things out of the corner of your eye. Unfortunately, it can start to decline with age – and if left unchecked, it can lead to some serious problems down the road.
What is peripheral vision?
When you look at an object, your eyes send signals to your brain to create an image. This image is created by the light that reflects off of the object and into your eye.
The area in the center of this image that you see clearly is called central vision, while the area surrounding central vision is called peripheral vision.
Peripheral vision is an essential part of your sight that allows you to see objects that are not in your direct line of sight. It might not be as sharp as your central vision, but it’s crucial for everyday tasks like driving, walking down the stairs, and even knowing when somebody is coming behind you.
So, what is peripheral vision loss?
Imagine this: out of nowhere, your vision starts to narrow. Darkness begins creeping in from the left, right, top, and bottom, and as you panic, the speed at which your vision narrows increases. In a matter of minutes, all you can see is a small tunnel of light in the center of your vision. Talk about horrifying!
Also known as tunnel vision, peripheral vision loss is a decrease in your ability to see objects that are off to the side. To give you an idea of how our brain uses peripheral vision, let’s take a closer look at how we process images.
There are two types of cells in the retina: cones and rods. Cones are mainly in the center of the retina, which is responsible for central vision and color perception. The rest is covered with rods and they are responsible for peripheral vision and night vision, allowing us to see in low light but providing only little detail.
As we age, the number of rods in our retina decreases while the number of cones stays relatively constant, which leads to a decline or loss of peripheral vision. This is a normal part of aging and is not usually a cause for concern.
However, if you’re experiencing a drastic decline or sudden loss in your peripheral vision, it could be a sign of a more serious underlying condition affecting the function of your rods.
Some symptoms of peripheral vision loss that you should watch out for include:
- Bumping into objects
- Frequent falls
- Having difficulty reading or driving
- Having difficulty seeing at night
- Seeing dark or blur on the outer edges
- Losing your balance or feeling dizzy
When you start experiencing these symptoms, you should see an ophthalmologist as soon as possible to get a proper diagnosis and treatment.
Why can you lose peripheral vision?
Losing peripheral vision is one of the biggest concerns for older people, but it can also affect those of us who are younger.
While it’s a normal part of aging, there are also several other causes that can lead to peripheral vision loss, such as:
- CataractsA leading cause of vision loss, a cataract is the clouding of the eye’s natural lens. As cataracts develop, they can cause blurriness, glare, and sensitivity to light.
- Diabetic retinopathyWhen diabetes is not well-controlled, it can damage the blood vessels in the retina, leading to diabetic retinopathy.
- GlaucomaAn eye condition that damages the optic nerve, which carries information from your eyes to your brain. It is the leading cause of blindness for people over 60 years old.
- Hallucinogenic drugsMost hallucinogenic drugs, such as LSD and ecstasy, can affect your vision, leading to temporary or permanent tunnel vision.
- MigraineAbout 30% of people with migraines experience visual symptoms called an aura, which can include tunnel vision.
- Optic neuritisThe swelling of the optic nerve, causing blurry or dim vision, dull and faded color perception, and pain in the back of your eye socket.
- Retinal detachmentThe retina is a thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye that’s responsible for sending images to the brain. If this tissue detaches from the back of the eye, it can cause blurry vision and seeing tiny specks and lines.
- Retinitis pigmentosaIf you have retinitis pigmentosa, the way your retina responds to light is altered, making it difficult to see.
- StrokeA stroke can damage the part of the brain that’s responsible for processing visual information and cause tunnel vision in one or both eyes.
Is peripheral vision loss permanent?
In some cases, tunnel vision or peripheral vision loss is temporary. For example, if you’re suffering from migraines, taking medications can help lessen the frequency and intensity of your headaches and visual symptoms.
Depending on the extent, people who have diabetic retinopathy can also improve their vision by keeping their blood sugar levels under control to prevent further damage to their blood vessels.
If the underlying cause of the peripheral vision loss is stroke, the vision loss might be permanent; however, a recent study at the University of Rochester shows that people who have suffered from complete vision loss due to stroke can regain some of their vision with the help of therapy.
Unlike retinitis pigmentosa, most causes of tunnel vision, such as cataracts, glaucoma, and retinal detachment, may be initially treated with medicine, laser treatment, glasses, or contacts, or can be reversed and cured with different types of surgery.
What to do if you think you have peripheral vision loss
If you think you might be losing your peripheral vision, it’s important to see an ophthalmologist or other eye specialist right away. They will be able to give you a comprehensive eye exam to determine the underlying cause of your vision loss and come up with a treatment plan.
One of the common tests used is the dilated eye exam. In this test, drops are placed in your eyes to widen or dilate the pupils. This allows the doctor to get a better look at the back of your eye and check for any signs of damage or disease, such as glaucoma and retinal detachment.
Other tests that your ophthalmologist might perform include:
- Visual field testThis test measures your entire scope of vision, both central and peripheral.
- Optical coherence tomography (OCT) scanOCT is a type of imaging test that produces cross-sectional pictures of your retina to help detect early signs of diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.
- Fluorescein angiography (FA)FA involves injecting dye into a vein in your arm to clearly see the blood flow in your eye through a special camera and help identify any blockages or leaks in the blood vessels.
- Eye and orbit ultrasoundThis test uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the inside of your eye to help detect any abnormalities in the structure of your eye, such as a retinal detachment or tumors.
- TonometryThis test measures the pressure inside your eye to screen for signs of glaucoma (high eye pressure).
How to prevent peripheral vision loss
While not all cases of peripheral vision loss can be prevented, there are some measures you can take to lower your risk, protect your vision, and prevent progression.
- Wear sunglasses or protective lenses when outdoors to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays.
- Consume a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber, and other complex carbohydrates.
- Maintain a healthy weight by exercising regularly and drinking plenty of water.
- Quit smoking and excessive drug and alcohol use.
- Get regular eye exams, especially if you have a family history of eye diseases, so any problems can be detected and treated early on.
Precautions like these aren’t guaranteed to prevent tunnel vision, but they’ll certainly lower your risk.
Can tunnel vision be treated?
Most cases of tunnel vision are temporary, but some are permanent. However, there are available treatments such as wearing glasses and contacts, medicine, therapy, and surgery, that can help improve your quality of life and regain some vision.
It’s essential to see an ophthalmologist as soon as you experience any changes in your vision so that they can determine the best course of treatment. With early detection and treatment, you can prevent further vision loss and maintain clear sight for years to come.
If you have any concerns about your vision, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with an ophthalmologist or other qualified eye care professional.