Table of Contents
- Visual Disturbances
- Diplopia/Double Vision
- Migraine-Caused Disturbances
- Other Types of Visual Disturbances
- Sign of Something More Serious
- When To Call 911
- Should I Be Concerned?
Visual disturbances occur when you experience a change in your vision that is not indicative of normal eye health. The term is most often used when discussing symptoms that affect people who suffer from migraines, but it can be applicable in other scenarios.
The most common instance of visual disturbances is generally unrelated to migraines. Floaters are blobs or spots in your vision, and most people will experience these at some point in their lives.
While common, large floaters or a sudden onset of them can be indicative of a more serious issue. Consult with a doctor immediately for such issues, as failing to do so could lead to blindness in the affected eye.
There are a myriad of visual disturbances associated with migraines, even though only about 25 to 30 percent of people who suffer from migraines experience them. They usually occur for about 10 to 30 minutes, and almost always for less than one hour. They generally precede a headache, but they sometimes occur alongside one.
Some people’s migraine symptoms change as they age, with headaches getting less severe. By 50, some people will experience visual disturbances without experiencing any headache at all.
If you experience a sudden change in your vision, such as an increase in the severity, length, or symptoms of your visual disturbances, you should see a doctor immediately. If your symptoms seem radically different, you should be especially concerned.
Stroke symptoms can sometimes be confused with those of a migraine. If you experience migraines, talk to your doctor about ways to tell the difference between a migraine and a stroke.
Symptoms like numbness, confusion, and trouble walking are other signs of a stroke that go along with visual disturbances and headaches. If you or someone you know may be experiencing a stroke, call 911.
Visual disturbances on their own are usually not serious, but you should always see a doctor if you do not have an explanation for them, or they seem severe. Once you understand what your visual disturbances tend to look like and why, you only need to see a doctor again for them if there is a change that you cannot explain.
A visual disturbance is any change to your vision that is not indicative of normal health and function. The term is most commonly associated with the disturbances seen with migraine headaches, but they can also be a sign of more serious issues like a stroke.
It can be helpful, even potentially lifesaving, to familiarize yourself with the nature of visual disturbances. If you frequently suffer from migraines, it is doubly important, as the symptoms of a stroke may masquerade as those of your normal migraine auras and other disturbances.
Floaters are blobs and spots in your vision. They are the results of particles or impurities in your eye’s vitreous casting shadows on the retina. Most people will experience floaters at some point in life, and generally, they are harmless.
Floaters become more common as people age, when the vitreous close to the retina becomes more fluid, and impurities can flow more freely. Even if they are not usually serious, they can sometimes be indicative of a serious eye disease or condition. If you suddenly notice floaters, or you notice a large one, see an optometrist as soon as possible.
There are two types of diplopia. Thefirst is monocular, which affects only one eye, and you only experience double vision with one eye open. It can be caused by damage to your eye lens, the retinal surface, or your cornea.
The other type is binocular, which affects both eyes and causes images to be misaligned. The causes include brain damage, nerve damage and muscle damage. Binocular diplopia is usually more serious than monocular diplopia.
Symptoms of diplopia include a wandering/cross-eyed look andpain accompanying eye movement or in areas around it. Headaches, nausea and droopy eyelids can also be symptoms of diplopia.
A doctor will make a diagnosis by taking through a series of physical tests and taking a record of your medical history. Treatment is largely dependent on the cause, and where there is no clear source, it can be serious. Treatment involves surgery and medication, and about 70 percent of the cases are managed this way.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, 25 to 30 percent of migraine sufferers experience visual aura symptoms. Importantly, these symptoms usually occur in both eyes.
This can be confusing, as the issue may only appear on one side of your visual field, such as the right side. To test, you can close one eye, check for the disturbance, and then do the same for the other eye. If you only see it in one eye, it may be indicative of a more serious problem.
The following are some examples of the visual disturbances a migraine can cause:
- Photopsia: This is when you see flashes of light, like a bright bulb flashing in your vision.
- Fortification spectra/teichopsia: These are bright, jagged lines that shimmer. They vaguely resemble battlements or fortifications, hence the name.
- Metamorphopsia/Alice in Wonderland syndrome (AiWS): This is when images distort in shape, size, and/or color, producing an often bizarre visual effect some feel is reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s work.
- Scotoma/partial loss of vision: This effect is categorized by spots in the field of vision or a tunnel vision effect.
- Amaurosis fugax: More commonly due to decreased blood flow due to a narrowing in the carotid artery, this effect can still occur with migraines. It appears like a loss of vision spreading from the top down, not unlike a shade being pulled.
The symptoms of migraine disturbances can be categorized into three groups.
- Positive symptoms: These are visual disturbances where you see something that is not there.
- Negative symptoms: These are the opposite of positive symptoms, where you have blind spots in your vision.
- Distorted or altered visual symptoms: This category of symptoms includes many of the symptoms associated with Alice in Wonderland syndrome. Your vision is distorted or strange, such as colors or sizes being wrong, or it appears as if you are looking through water, heat waves, or other phenomena.
With migraines, visual disturbances of any kind typically occur for 10 to 30 minutes, and they rarely last over an hour. They usually precede a headache, but they may occur during one instead.
Your experiences with migraines may change as you get older. Some people may experience migraine-related visual symptoms but no actual headache around age 50 or older.
Treating Migraine-Caused Disturbances
If you experience migraines accompanied by any visual disturbances, you should seek immediate attention as they are often indicators of an underlying condition. There is no specific treatment for migraine-caused visual disturbances as they vary, and any treatment seeks to address both the migraine and underlying condition. Some treatment options include:
- Beta-blockers to dilate blood vessels to and from the eye
- Prescription medicine to manage convulsion symptoms
- Localized paralytics to calm nerve spasms
- Calcium channel blockers to prevent blood vessel constriction
- Lifestyle changes to manage stress and alleviate inflammation, including staying hydrated and eliminating alcohol and caffeine
The underlying factor in all these conditions is the need for urgent medical attention. Should you experience any new or persistent symptoms, early diagnosis may be your only chance for effective treatment.
Other Types of Visual Disturbances
Visual disturbances vary in their manifestation, causes, and effects. In addition to floaters, other common ones include:
Blindness can present itself in two ways: partial blindness or total blindness. With partial blindness, light is visible, as are parts of your surroundings. With total blindness, you cannot see light at all. In the United States, vision below 20/200 is considered legal blindness. There are a variety of treatment options for legal blindness, including surgery and special eyeglasses or contact lenses.
Color blindness affects your ability to see specific colors in the same way you would see them with normal vision (the same way others see them). Poor color vision is often only partial, with individuals failing to differentiate specific shades (red, green, blue, yellow). With total color blindness, individuals only see shades of grey. There are no other colors.
Blurred vision is a result of your eyes not aligning properly and thus you don't receive or read visual images correctly. It could be a sign of another condition or changing eyesight. Most blurred vision is fixed by corrective and contact lenses, and if another condition is involved, it will require extra treatment.
As the name suggests, halo disturbances present as light circles around objects. They are not a condition on their own but could be a symptom of any of several medical conditions. You should get urgent treatment.
Some visual conditions could manifest as pain causing an itching sensation or eye discomfort whenever you shut or open your eyelid. It could also be present as continuous throbbing pain.
A Potential Sign of Something More Serious
Visual disturbances are sometimes representative of bigger dangers than they first appear.
As already discussed, floaters can sometimes represent serious eye disease or even retinal detachment. New visual disturbances, especially those that are only present in one eye, can also represent a serious problem.
Painless dark spots or floaters that are new, sometimes accompanied by flashes of light or loss of vision, may mean you have experienced a retinal or vitreous detachment. You should see an ophthalmologist right away, as vision loss may become permanent.
The transient loss of vision in one eye can be a warning sign of stroke or inflamed arteries. These episodes usually last 30 minutes, and they are not associated with headache. They are especially worrisome if you are over 45 years old. If you experience these symptoms, see an see an ophthalmologist, neuro-ophthalmologist, or neurologist immediately.
When to Call 911
Frequent migraines can hide symptoms of a stroke. This can have deadly consequences, as immediate help is needed in the case of a stroke.
If you or someone you know shows any of the following symptoms, call 911 immediately:
- Abrupt numbness or weakness of the arm, leg, or face, usually but not always on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, including difficulty with speaking or understanding
- Unexpected trouble walking, faintness, loss of balance, or dexterity
Unfortunately, two other indicators of a stroke can be sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes and a severe headache. If you suffer from migraines (and therefore frequently experience these two symptoms), talk to your doctor about ways to note the difference.
If you are unsure whether you are having a stroke, call 911. It’s always best to err on the side of safety.
Should I Be Concerned About Visual Disturbances?
Visual disturbances can be frightening. You should always seek an explanation from a trained professional about why they occurring.
Oftentimes, they are just an unfortunate but not generally dangerous symptom of another condition. At the same time, they can sometimes represent a serious issue.
Be mindful of changes to your vision. Even if you commonly experience visual disturbances, sudden changes to their severity, duration, or type can be indicative of a worsening problem or a different issue.
Take visual disturbances seriously. They occur for a reason. See a doctor and get a professional diagnosis of why they are happening. Generally speaking, you will not need to worry, but it is best to have the issue professionally assessed.
Once you have a diagnosis, you do not need to see a doctor every time your symptoms occur. You should see one again if you experience any changes or significant problems.
Anatomy of the Eye. University of Michigan.
Visual Disturbances: Related to Migraine or Not? (February 5, 2016). American Migraine Foundation.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Visual Disturbances in Multiple Sclerosis. (2010). International Journal of MS Care.
Visual Disturbances. National Headache Foundation.
Visual Aura and Scotomas: What Do They Indicate? (September 15, 2015). Review of Optometry.
Floaters, Spots, and Flashes. The NZ Association of Optometrists.
Migraine with aura. (July 2021). Mayo Clinic.
Diplopia (Double Vision). (March 2020). WebMD.
Types of visual impairment. (June 2015). New Medical Life Sciences.
What is visual disturbance? Visual disturbance is when you experience a short spell of flashing or shimmering of light in your sight. The symptoms normally last around twenty minutes before your sight returns to normal. Usually, there is no headache during the visual disturbance.What are visual disturbances caused by? ›
It can be caused by damage to your eye lens, the retinal surface, or your cornea. The other type is binocular, which affects both eyes and causes images to be misaligned. The causes include brain damage, nerve damage and muscle damage. Binocular diplopia is usually more serious than monocular diplopia.How do you stop visual disturbances? ›
You should rest and avoid triggers such as bright lights until the vision disturbances are gone. There are both over-the-counter treatments and prescription medications that you can use to treat recurring migraine flares. Over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen or Excedrin Migraine may also help reduce the symptoms.What causes visual disturbance migraines? ›
Retinal migraine is caused by the blood vessels to the eye suddenly narrowing (constricting), reducing the blood flow to the eye. It may be triggered by: stress. smoking.Can high blood pressure cause visual disturbances? ›
HBP can harm your eyesight in many ways
Blood vessel damage (retinopathy): A lack of blood flow to the retina leads to blurred vision or the complete loss of sight. People with diabetes and high blood pressure are at an even greater risk for developing this condition.
When we are severely stressed and anxious, high levels of adrenaline in the body can cause pressure on the eyes, resulting in blurred vision. People with long-term anxiety can suffer from eye strain throughout the day on a regular basis.Can sinus pressure cause visual disturbances? ›
Sinus pressure – severe pressure in the head can also impact eyesight. This may be a result of pain perception but can also arise from sinus pressure impacting circulation to the blood vessels of the eyes. Tiredness – blurred vision, fatigue, and emotional or physical exhaustion can all be correlated.Which is a common cause of visual disturbances in older adults? ›
Age-Related Macular Degeneration. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of loss of vision in people over 65 years of age. AMD is characterized by degeneration of the macula, the area of the retina responsible for central vision (Figure 1).Can lack of B12 affect your eyes? ›
A lack of vitamin B12 can cause neurological problems, which affect your nervous system, such as: vision problems. memory loss. pins and needles (paraesthesia)Can dry eye cause visual disturbances? ›
According to the International Dry Eye Work Shop in 2007, “Dry eye is a multifactorial disease of the tears and ocular surface that results in symptoms of discomfort, visual disturbance, and tear film instability with potential damage to the ocular surface” 1.
Symptoms such as dizziness, unsteadiness, and visual disturbances and signs of altered head and eye movement control and postural stability are common in those following neck trauma, especially in those with persistent pain.Can high blood pressure cause flashing lights in eyes? ›
Optic neuropathy: Hypertension can lead to reduced blood flow to the optic nerve, which damages the cells in the eyes. It can lead to permanent vision loss. Symptoms may include: Flashes in the eye.How long do migraine visual disturbances last? ›
A visual migraine is a temporary visual distortion that often begins with a small sparkling, shimmering area that slowly expands outward. The growing spot often has jagged, zig-zag edges. The visual symptoms typically last approximately 20-30 minutes and then completely resolve.What foods trigger visual migraines? ›
Common migraine “triggers” that can cause a susceptible person to have a migraine or ocular migraine attack include certain foods, such as red wine, alcohol, aged cheeses, caffeine, nitrates (often found in smoked or cured meats, hot dogs, and other processed foods), and chocolate.Can stress cause visual auras? ›
Many of the same factors that trigger migraine can also trigger migraine with aura, including stress, bright lights, some foods and medications, too much or too little sleep, and menstruation.Can heart problems cause visual disturbances? ›
The researchers suggested that the underlying heart and vascular disease likely compromises blood circulation in the eye, leading to the SDDs beneath the retina and ultimately causing vision loss and blindness.What is a good pressure in your eyes? ›
Your eye pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury, expressed as mm Hg. Normal eye pressure is between 10 to 21 mm Hg. High intraocular pressure is greater than 21 mm Hg.Can blood sugar affect vision? ›
If your blood sugar levels change quickly from low to normal, the shape of your eye's lens can be affected and your vision can be blurred. Your vision goes back to normal after your blood sugar stabilizes.What are visual signs of anxiety? ›
- eye floaters.
- eye strain.
- eye twitching.
- flashes of light.
- light sensitivity.
- tunnel vision.
Fight or Flight Hormone
Constant, severe stress levels and subsequent releases of adrenaline lead to consistent dilated pupils and an eventual light sensitivity. This can lead to the twitching and tightening of eye muscles, which causes stress-related vision problems and eye discomfort.
Eye and vision anxiety symptoms common descriptions include:
Experiencing visual irregularities, such as seeing stars, shimmers, blurs, halos, shadows, “ghosted images,” “heat wave-like images,” fogginess, flashes, and double-vision. See things out of the corner of your eye that aren't there.
- A WARM COMPRESS. Putting a warm compress on your forehead and over your nose helps open the sinus passages to reduce the swelling.
- SALINE NOSE SPRAY. ...
- STEAM FROM A HOT SHOWER OR A BOWL OF HOT WATER. ...
- A HUMIDIFIER OR VAPORIZER. ...
- OVER-THE-COUNTER MEDICATIONS.
The sinus infection that spread to the eye socket lead to an increase in swollen tissue around the eyes. As a result, the eyes can look puffy or swollen shut. In some cases, the swollen might occur behind the eyes, pushing the eyes forward in the socket and preventing the eyelids from closing.Can mucus affect your eyes? ›
Emergency tears with too much mucus can lead to strings of gunk in or around your eye. Corneal ulcer. The cornea covers your iris, the colored section of your eye, and your pupil, which lets the light in. It's rare, but an ulcer could happen when there's an eye infection or extreme case of dry eye.What are the most common visual problems? ›
- Blurred vision (called refractive errors)
- Age-related macular degeneration.
- Diabetic retinopathy.
The leading causes of blindness and low vision in the United States are primarily age-related eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, cataract, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. Other common eye disorders include amblyopia and strabismus.What are the signs that your B12 is low? ›
- a pale yellow tinge to your skin.
- a sore and red tongue (glossitis)
- mouth ulcers.
- pins and needles (paraesthesia)
- changes in the way that you walk and move around.
- disturbed vision.
Constipation, diarrhea, loss of appetite, or gas. Nerve problems like numbness or tingling, muscle weakness, and problems walking. Vision loss. Mental problems like depression, memory loss, or behavioral changes.Can B12 improve eyesight? ›
Vitamin B12 supports and promotes eye health
Vitamin B12 can help maintain and promote healthy eyesight. As we get older, many of us suffer from macular degeneration (loss of eyesight). In a study on 5 000 women over the age of 40, sufficient vitamin B12 intake was linked to 34-41% lowered risk of macular degeneration.
As a symptom of dehydration, the best treatment for dry eye is rehydrating by drinking plenty of water. Eye drops can also help alleviate the symptoms by lubricating the eye and washing away foreign materials. Tired eyes, blurred vision, headaches and double vision are all symptoms of eye strain.
Applying lubricating eyedrops before going to sleep or upon waking up can remoisten your eyes. This might prevent or get rid of blurriness.What is the latest treatment for dry eyes? ›
Plugs. For people who have aqueous deficient dry eye disease, an ophthalmologist can insert a tiny plug into your tear-drainage duct. Placed in the inner corner of each eyelid, a plug blocks tear drainage and helps your eyes retain moisture. It's a quick procedure that takes place in your doctor's office.Can tight neck muscles cause visual disturbances? ›
In the upper cervical spine (C0-C2), this can cause symptoms such as nerve and tendon irritation and vertebrobasilar insufficiency with associated vertigo, tinnitus, dizziness, facial pain, arm pain, migraine headaches, and vision problems.What are the 5 most common causes of visual impairment? ›
- age-related macular degeneration.
- diabetic retinopathy.
- uncorrected refractive errors.
Overstimulation of the trigeminal nerve—the largest and most complex nerve connected to the brain, and the one responsible for sending sensations to the head, eyes and shoulders—results in visually induced Trigeminal Dysphoria.What is the most common cause of flashes and floaters? ›
Posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) is the most common cause of acute onset of flashes and floaters, present in nearly 66% of patients over 70 years. It is an age-related change in which the vitreous degenerates, shrinks and separates from the retina.Are flashing lights in eyes serious? ›
Seeing occasional flashing lights in your eyes usually isn't an issue. But repeated flashes in the forms of bright spots, streaks of lightening, or shooting stars in the corner of your eye can indicate a serious medical condition.What blood pressure medications can cause blurred vision? ›
- Alpha-blockers (for high blood pressure and enlarged prostate): Alfuzosin (Uroxatral and generic) and tamsulosin (Flomax and generic) ...
- Antibiotics: Ciprofloxacin (Cipro and generic)
Ocular Migraine Treatment
The visual portion of an ocular migraine usually lasts less than 60 minutes, so most people don't need treatment. It's best to stop what you're doing and rest your eyes until your vision goes back to normal. If you have a headache, take a pain reliever that your doctor recommends.
The risk of stroke almost triples for those who suffer from regular ocular migraines, according to the American Stroke Association. This is because a migraine with an aura causes blood vessels to narrow further and as a result increases the risk of stroke.
A migraine aura involving your vision will affect both eyes, and you may see: Flashes of light. Zigzagging patterns. Blind spots.What fruit is good for migraines? ›
Reach for a banana rather than highly processed foods like granola bars or candy, suggests Brown. “Bananas are a great food for quick energy recovery, and they're high in magnesium, which can be helpful when people have headaches,” she says.What vitamin helps with ocular migraines? ›
People who have migraine may be interested in dietary supplements to prevent or treat attacks, especially if they can't tolerate medications. Some research supports the use of vitamin B2, magnesium, vitamin D, coenzyme Q10, and melatonin to help with migraine.What causes sudden visual disturbances? ›
A sudden appearance of eye flashes is a medical emergency, usually caused by any of the following: Retinal detachment. Posterior vitreous detachment. Optic neuritis.What is considered a visual disturbance? ›
A visual disturbance is any change to your vision that is not indicative of normal health and function. The term is most commonly associated with the disturbances seen with migraine headaches, but they can also be a sign of more serious issues like a stroke.What are 3 very common vision problems? ›
The leading causes of blindness and low vision in the United States are primarily age-related eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, cataract, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. Other common eye disorders include amblyopia and strabismus.How long can visual disturbances last? ›
The visual disturbances of migraine generally last less than an hour, most commonly 10-30 minutes. Sometimes they only last seconds. They may or may not be associated with a headache, and some individuals only experience the visual symptoms without headaches.What are 4 common eye problems? ›
- Age-Related Macular Degeneration.
- Amblyopia (Lazy Eye)
- Color Blindness.
- Diabetic Retinopathy.
- Dry Eye.
The most common causes of vision loss among the elderly are age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataract and diabetic retinopathy. Age-related macular degeneration is characterized by the loss of central vision. Primary open-angle glaucoma results in optic nerve damage and visual field loss.What are the 3 types of vision? ›
- Emmetropia. If you have emmetropia it means you have ideal distance vision and don't need lenses to correct your vision. ...
- Farsightedness. If you are farsighted it means you can see well at a distance, but things up close are blurry. ...
- High blood pressure. ...
- Heart disease. ...
- Diabetes. ...
- Rheumatoid arthritis. ...
- Thyroid disorder. ...
- Parkinson's disease. ...
- Cancer. ...
- Multiple sclerosis.
not be able to see objects at a distance, like on a whiteboard or blackboard. having trouble reading (or learning to read) and participating in class. not be able to focus on objects or follow them, may squint often and rub their eyes a lot, have chronic eye redness or sensitivity to light.What causes sudden changes in vision? ›
It might be brought on by eye strain, possibly because you've spent too much time in front of a computer or other screen. It can also be a sign of a refractive error, like nearsightedness (myopia) or farsightedness (hyperopia), which can be easily solved with a new eyeglasses prescription from your eye doctor.