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Tunnel Vision: Causes, Treatment & Prevention

Tunnel vision is a temporary or permanent loss of peripheral vision.

Technically referred to as peripheral vision loss (PVL), tunnel vision is a significant impairment to or loss of peripheral vision while central vision is maintained. The result is a shrinking of the visual field, eliciting a narrow, tunnel-like appearance. 

Individuals with tunnel vision may experience difficulties maintaining balance, judging distances, and walking in crowded spaces without bumping into things or people. 

Causes of Tunnel Vision

Tunnel vision can have several causes, including glaucoma, stroke, migraines, heavy alcohol consumption, blood loss, and even the use of some hallucinogenic drugs. The particular cause will influence how tunnel vision manifests and its treatment.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is one of the most common causes of tunnel vision. Because glaucoma impacts the optic nerve, which transmits visual sensory input from the eye to the brain, this condition can induce tunnel vision in many cases. 

Migraines

In addition to being very painful, migraines can also induce tunnel vision.

A migraine can create numerous problems with vision, including both tunnel vision and a lateral or complete loss of the ability to see. Fortunately, this effect is usually temporary. However, if you experience impaired vision for more than 60 minutes, it’s time to seek immediate medical assistance. 

Avoid operating a motor vehicle or any heavy equipment while experiencing tunnel vision or any other visual effects from migraines.  

Stroke 

Stroke can also lead to tunnel vision. 

A stroke is caused by a severe restriction of blood flow to the brain, and one of the side effects is a full or partial loss of vision. This effect can be temporary, but it can also have permanent effects if brain damage occurs due to a sustained restriction in blood and oxygen to the brain and nerves of the eye. 

Diabetes

Diabetes affects the body’s ability to regulate insulin, which can lead to elevated blood sugar levels. Excessive levels of sugar in the bloodstream can cause inflammation of the retina and impair vision, leading to a condition called diabetic retinopathy, which can reduce the visual field

This effect is usually temporary and disappears once blood sugar normalizes. However, it is important to see a doctor for any vision loss or impairment that occurs for more than 60 minutes. 

Diabetic patients should be under the regular care of an ophthalmologist as they are at higher risk of various eye-related issues.

Substance Use & Abuse 

Heavy alcohol consumption and the use of some types of drugs can lead to tunnel vision.

For example, alcohol can cause the muscles in the eye to weaken, resulting in difficulty focusing and inducing a restricted visual field that resembles tunnel vision. Stimulants can prevent the reuptake of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine, which can result in a perceptual narrowing of the visual field

Most often, tunnel vision related to substance use can be corrected simply by stopping the use of the substance. In cases of substance abuse, professional addiction treatment may be necessary to stop use. 

Anxiety

Anxiety, stress, or panic can cause sudden, temporary tunnel vision. This is more common in people with severe anxiety or stress disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or social anxiety disorder, rather than in people who are experiencing more common levels of stress.

Additional Causes 

Some less common causes of tunnel vision include genetic diseases like Usher syndrome and retinitis pigmentosa as well as pituitary tumors. 

tunnel vision

When to See a Doctor for Tunnel Vision

Tunnel vision can be a fairly scary experience, particularly if it’s your first time experiencing this effect. 

Symptoms are temporary in most cases and decline once the underlying cause has been addressed. However, it can be difficult to determine the causes of tunnel vision on your own. 

It’s best to seek medical assistance as soon as you can. Again, it is always advisable to seek medical assistance if you experience tunnel vision that lasts for more than an hour. 

Treatments for Tunnel Vision

In most cases, tunnel vision is very treatable. Symptoms often decline on their own. 

There are some steps you can take on your own to help alleviate tunnel vision, and there are also medical treatments. First, you’ll need to identify the cause, so see a doctor. 

Depending on your doctor’s diagnosis, various treatments may be appropriate.

Eye Drops 

If your tunnel vision is due to visual spots or a narrowed visual field due to glaucoma, eye drops may help. Glaucoma increases the feeling of pressure within the ocular cavity, and eye drops can help reduce this sensation

Vasodilators & Blood Thinners 

Because tunnel vision can be caused by restricted blood flow, medications that reduce resistance within the cardiorespiratory system and increase blood flow can help. As these medications improve blood flow, tunnel vision may improve.

Steroids

Tunnel vision is often caused by inflammation. Anti-inflammatory steroids like cortisone and prednisone can be used to combat this effect. 

Therapy

If temporary tunnel vision is related to stress or anxiety, mental health therapy is often recommended. In some instances, medications such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications may be recommended.

Surgical Intervention & Laser Treatment 

Surgical intervention and laser treatment can help to treat tunnel vision caused by conditions like diabetes and glaucoma. 

In some cases, a doctor may recommend the use of retinal implants, which can partially restore the visual field by bypassing damaged photoreceptors in the eye and providing visual sensory information directly from the retina to the brain. 

For patients with glaucoma, a doctor may also treat tunnel vision by draining fluid from the eye to reduce internal pressure. 

Can You Prevent Tunnel Vision?

While not all instances of tunnel vision can be prevented, there are steps you can take to protect your vision and prevent its progression. Follow these tips to best protect your health and reduce the likelihood of developing tunnel vision:

  • Maintain a healthy cardiorespiratory system and body weight by drinking plenty of water, exercising regularly, and consuming a healthy diet. 
  • Avoid heavy alcohol use and drug consumption. 
  • Regulate blood sugar levels by consuming plenty of fiber, avoiding foods high in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and choosing complex carbohydrates over simple sugars. 
  • Visit your primary physician and eye doctor regularly. Early detection of any warning signs related to tunnel vision is critical to prevent permanent vision loss. 
  • Avoid tobacco use. 
  • Prevent environmental damage to your eyes by wearing sunglasses outside and protective lenses whenever necessary. 

Tunnel Vision FAQs

What does it mean when you have tunnel vision?

Tunnel vision means that you have a reduced visual field. This means you have some loss of peripheral vision, but you can still see straight ahead of you.

What does tunnel vision feel like?

People with tunnel vision often describe it as feeling like they are looking at the world through a narrow tube.

Is tunnel vision permanent? 

Tunnel vision is usually temporary, but it can be permanent. It’s best to see a medical professional as soon as possible if you are experiencing symptoms. They can properly diagnose the condition and give you an estimate on what to expect.

Will tunnel vision disappear on its own?

In many cases, tunnel vision will disappear when the underlying cause resolves. However, always see a doctor if symptoms last more than 60 minutes. In some cases, tunnel vision can be due to a serious underlying cause.

References

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  2. Advances in the Treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy. (December 2019). Journal of Diabetes and Its Complications.

  3. Central and Peripheral Visual Impairment and the Risk of Falls with Injury. (February 2010). Ophthalmology.

  4. Glaucomatous Optic Neuropathy Treatment Options: The Promise of Novel Therapeutics, Techniques and Tools to Help Preserve Vision. (July 2018). Neural Regeneration Research.

  5. Risk of Acute Ischemic Stroke in Patients with Monocular Vision Loss of Vascular Etiology. (September 2018). Journal of Neuro-Ophthalmology.

  6. What Do Patients With Glaucoma See? Visual Symptoms Reported by Patients With Glaucoma. (November 2014). The American Journal of Medical Sciences.

  7. Clinical Features of Visual Migraine Aura: A Systematic Review. (May 2019). The Journal of Headache and Pain.

  8. Stroke Survivors’ Views and Experiences on Impact of Visual Impairment. (August 2017). Brain and Behavior.

  9. New Diagnostic and Therapeutic Approaches for Preventing the Progression of Diabetic Retinopathy. (December 2015). Journal of Diabetes Research.

  10. Alcohol and the Eye. (April 2021). Journal of Ophthalmic & Vision Research.

  11. The Influence of Stimulants, Sedatives, and Fatigue on Tunnel Vision: Risk Factors for Driving and Piloting. (June 2001). Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

  12. Acute Hypoglycemia Decreases Central Retinal Function in the Human Eye. (May 2011). Vision Research.

  13. Eye Movements of Patients With Tunnel Vision While Walking. (December 2007). Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science.

  14. When Scientific Paradigms Lead to Tunnel Vision: Lessons From the Study of Fear. (March 2017). NPJ Science of Learning.

  15. Cognitive Tunneling: Use of Visual Information Under Stress. (February 1983). Perceptual and Motor Skills.

  16. Usher Syndrome. (March 2017). National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Diseases.

  17. Retinitis Pigmentosa. (March 2022). National Eye Institute.

  18. The Argus-II Retinal Prosthesis Implantation; From the Global to Local Successful Experience. (September 2018). Frontiers in Neuroscience.

  19. The Quality of Life Impact of Peripheral Versus Central Vision Loss with a Focus on Glaucoma Versus Age-Related Macular Degeneration. (August 2009). Clinical Ophthalmology.

  20. Vitamin A and Fish Oils for Preventing the Progression of Retinitis Pigmentosa. (June 2020). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

Last Updated August 9, 2022

Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.