Whether you’re driving a car or entering a room, your peripheral vision helps you move around safely. It allows you to see things without moving your head.
But some conditions can interfere with peripheral vision and lead to tunnel vision, also called tubular vision. This type of peripheral vision loss affects your 360 degree visual field.
There are several possible causes of tunnel vision. Some conditions only affect the eyes, while others involve the whole body.
Read on to find out why tunnel vision occurs, common symptoms to look out for, and treatment options to explore.
Peripheral sight, or side vision, is what you see at the outer edges of your visual field when looking straight ahead.
Tunnel vision occurs when this peripheral vision is lost. If this happens, you will only be able to see something if you look at it directly.
This type of vision loss is mainly caused by problems with rods and cones – two types of photoreceptors, or light-sensitive cells – in the retina. The retina helps you see by recognizing light and sending information to the brain.
Brain damage can also cause tunnel vision. For example, a stroke can damage the brain along the visual pathway and cause tunnel vision even though there is no damage to the eye itself.
Here are seven possible causes of tunnel vision and what you should do next if you think you know the cause.
Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a group of eye conditions that cause vision loss over time. It is also called hereditary retinal dystrophy.
RP is caused by genetic mutations that affect rod cells. The mutations affect the function of the rods, ultimately damaging them.
The first symptom of RP is usually loss of night vision or nyctalopia. Then, side vision slowly decreases, potentially leading to tunnel vision.
Sometimes RP can lead to complete vision loss.
Glaucoma occurs when there is increased fluid pressure in the eye. This can damage the optic nerve, which sends signals to the brain so you can see. Damage to the optic nerve can lead to blind spots.
Glaucoma can also cause permanent vision loss in your peripheral or central vision, especially when the glaucoma progresses to an advanced stage.
Optic neuritis is an inflammation of the optic nerve. This makes it difficult for the optic nerve to send signals to the brain, causing tunnel vision.
If optic neuritis is not due to an underlying condition, it may go away on its own. But if it’s caused by another medical condition, you might need treatment to resolve the symptoms.
Generally, optic neuritis is the first symptom of multiple sclerosis. It can also be caused by an infection.
A retinal detachment is a medical emergency.
It happens when the retina separates from the back of the eye causing loss of peripheral vision. Treatment can resolve the symptoms.
Without immediate treatment, retinal detachment can lead to complete loss of vision.
Migraine involves intense pain in the head. Visual symptoms, such as tunnel vision, can occur before or during a migraine episode.
Visual symptoms due to a migraine episode are usually temporary and last from 5 to 60 minutes.
A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked. It can also happen if a blood vessel in the brain bursts.
A stroke can injure part of the brain, potentially narrowing your visual field, which includes peripheral and central sight.
Usually, visual field loss due to stroke affects both eyes and is permanent.
Diabetic retinopathy affects people with diabetes.
This condition occurs when high blood sugar levels damage vessels in the retina, causing blood to leak and vision problems like loss of peripheral vision.
Tunnel vision makes it difficult to see what’s on the outer edges of your vision.
This means you will be able to see things straight ahead, but the sides of your vision will be blurry. This includes seeing from all sides, including left, right, and above or below your direct field of vision.
Other symptoms that may indicate tunnel vision include:
- bump into objects
- frequent falls
- difficulty reading and driving
- difficulty walking in crowded areas
- poor night vision
Tunnel vision can affect one or both eyes.
The best way to manage tunnel vision is to treat the underlying cause. This can help keep it from getting worse.
If your tunnel vision is due to migraine episodes, try to avoid common migraine triggers.
It’s also a good idea to see an eye doctor regularly. They can provide recommendations for keeping your eyes healthy and treating vision problems before tunnel vision develops or gets worse.
If you already have tunnel vision, try rearranging your home into a safer configuration. This may involve placing furniture further apart to avoid bumping into them.
Treatment depends on the cause of your tunnel vision, including:
Prescription treatment may include:
- Eye drops. Medicated eye drops can help reduce high eye pressure caused by glaucoma.
- Antihypertensive drugs. If your tunnel vision is linked to high blood pressure, medications can help you manage your blood pressure.
- Steroids. If you have optic neuritis, intravenous steroids can help reduce inflammation.
Laser treatment can be used to treat conditions such as:
- diabetic retinopathy
- retinal detachment
Some conditions can be treated with the following surgical procedures:
- Electronic retinal implants. This option may help restore some vision in people with RP.
- Vitrectomy. A vitrectomy is used to treat diabetic retinopathy. This involves removing blood that has leaked from the blood vessels of the eye.
- Glaucoma surgery. With this surgery, a doctor drains fluid from the eye to reduce pressure in the area.
Tunnel vision is accompanied by loss of peripheral vision. This can cause symptoms such as difficulty driving, reading, and walking in crowded spaces. If you have tunnel vision, you may also frequently bump into objects.
For best treatment results, see a doctor as soon as you notice significant changes in your vision. With early diagnosis, a doctor can help you develop an effective treatment plan to manage your symptoms.