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Tunnel Vision- Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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Tunnel Vision- Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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Tunnel vision, also known as peripheral vision loss, is when the side vision is lost, and only the objects placed in front are seen.

Written by

Dr. Sumithra. S

Medically reviewed by

Dr. M. Anjali Shelbi

Published At July 8, 2022
Reviewed AtJanuary 2, 2024

Introduction

The primary function of the eye is to collect light from the environment and transport it to the brain through the nerves from where an image is formed. Vision can be affected by infections, injuries, or an underlying medical condition. Vision loss is prevalent, especially in older age. The vision loss could be temporary, permanent, partial, blurry, cloudy, or complete.

Sometimes, the side or peripheral vision can be lost, and only the objects in front of the eyes can be seen. This condition is called tunnel vision or peripheral vision loss (PVL). Sudden peripheral vision loss can be a distressing experience. The temporary or permanent reduction of side vision characterizes this condition. It raises concerns about underlying health issues.

What Does the Term Tunnel Vision Mean?

Tunnel vision, also known as PVL, is a condition where central vision remains intact, but peripheral vision is compromised or distorted. This creates the perception of looking through a narrow tube, called "tunnel vision." The loss of peripheral vision can occur in one or both eyes, with the brain compensating for the gaps when one eye is closed.

What Are the Possible Causes of Tunnel Vision?

Tunnel vision typically occurs as a symptom of different health conditions. The various medical conditions that cause tunnel or peripheral vision loss are listed below.

  • Glaucoma - Glaucoma is characterized by optic nerve damage often associated with increased intraocular pressure. It can lead to progressive peripheral vision loss. When tunnel vision becomes apparent, glaucoma may have reached advanced stages.

  • Migraines - Migraines can induce tunnel vision as part of a visual aura, lasting 20 to 60 minutes. Persistent or associated symptoms require medical attention to rule out underlying conditions.

  • Diabetic Retinopathy - Diabetic retinopathy is a consequence of diabetes. This affects blood vessels in the retina, leading to blood leakage and vision issues, including peripheral vision loss.

  • Retinitis Pigmentosa - A group of genetic disorders, retinitis pigmentosa, affects the retina's ability to respond to light, leading to the disappearance of night vision and peripheral vision.

  • Stroke - Stroke survivors may experience sudden peripheral vision loss affecting both eyes. Timely assessment through visual field tests is essential for understanding the extent of vision impairment, with partial or full recovery possible over time.

  • Optic Neuritis - Inflammation of the optic nerve is known as optic neuritis. This can result in blurred, gray, dim, and tunnel vision. The underlying cause remains unknown, but prompt medical attention is important.

  • Retinal Detachment - The retinal detachment emergency involves the separation of the retina from its normal position, causing temporary vision loss. Immediate medical attention is vital to prevent permanent blindness.

  • Stress and ADHD - Understanding the connection between stress, ADHD, and tunnel vision is important. Stress-induced adrenaline surges can lead to temporary narrowing of the visual field. Also, individuals with ADHD may exhibit a metaphorical "tunnel vision" due to hyper-focus.

What Does Tunnel Vision Look Like?

Individuals experiencing tunnel vision may notice a clear central field of vision but encounter challenges in perceiving objects or movement in their peripheral surroundings. The symptoms may be gradual but alarming when peripheral vision loss becomes noticeable. The main symptom of tunnel vision is the loss of peripheral vision.

Other symptoms of tunnel vision include:

  • Bumping into objects.

  • Falling often.

  • Navigating crowds with difficulty.

  • Tripping excessively.

  • Challenges with night vision.

  • Trouble driving.

How Is Tunnel Vision Diagnosed?

Regular eye examinations are necessary for diagnosing the causes of tunnel vision. Key diagnostic tools include dilated eye exams to examine the retina, tonometry to measure eye pressure, visual field tests to assess the extent of vision loss, and optical coherence tomography for detailed retina imaging.

How Is Tunnel Vision Treated?

The appropriate treatment for tunnel vision depends on the underlying medical condition or cause which led to peripheral vision loss in the affected individual. An eye care professional, such as an ophthalmologist or optometrist, will determine the specific cause of tunnel vision. Treatments will vary based on the diagnosis. The various approaches for treating peripheral vision loss are listed below:

  • Medical Management - Medications or surgeries may be prescribed for conditions like glaucoma to manage intraocular pressure and prevent further damage to the optic nerve.

  • Medication Adjustments - In some cases, adjusting medications may be necessary, especially if tunnel vision is a side effect of certain drugs.

  • Laser Treatment - Laser interventions, including laser iridotomy for glaucoma and scatter laser therapy for diabetic retinopathy, may be done. This is done to aim to reduce pressure and swelling in the retina.

  • Electronic Retinal Implants - Advanced technologies like electronic retinal implants show promise in restoring vision for conditions like retinitis pigmentosa.

  • Surgical Interventions - Surgical procedures may be considered for specific conditions, such as retinal detachment or tumors causing pressure on the optic nerve.

What Are the Strategies to Cope With Peripheral Vision Loss?

Vision loss due to PVL may have a huge impact on the affected individual’s daily life and mental health. The following strategies can help a patient cope better with the condition.

  • Vision Rehabilitation - Vision rehabilitation programs can help individuals adapt to changes in vision and improve their daily functioning. This may include orientation and mobility training, adaptive technology, and low-vision aids.

  • Counseling and Support - Living with tunnel vision can be challenging, and individuals may benefit from counseling or support groups to cope with the emotional and practical aspects of vision loss.

  • Low Vision Aids - Devices like magnifiers, telescopic lenses, or electronic aids can assist individuals with tunnel vision perform daily tasks.

  • Environmental Modifications - Making home or work environment changes, such as improving lighting or minimizing obstacles, can enhance safety and mobility.

Is Tunnel Vison Temporary or Permanent?

Whether tunnel vision is permanent depends on its underlying cause.

  • If triggered by temporary factors like migraines or stress, tunnel vision is likely reversible and short-lived.

  • The tunnel vision may be permanent if associated with conditions such as advanced glaucoma or retinitis pigmentosa.

  • In cases of medication-induced tunnel vision, adjustments to medication may reverse the symptoms.

  • Visual field loss resulting from a stroke may show improvement with rehabilitation.

  • Reverse tunnel vision caused by age-related macular degeneration usually leads to permanent central vision impairment.

Can Tunnel Vision Be Prevented?

While some causes of tunnel vision may be unavoidable, adopting preventive measures promotes overall eye health. Regular eye check-ups, maintaining stable blood sugar levels, a healthy diet, avoiding smoking, and protecting the eyes from environmental factors contribute to proactive eye care.

What Is Reverse Tunnel Vision?

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye condition that is progressive and manifests as damage to the macula. It leads to a distinctive visual impairment described metaphorically as "reverse tunnel vision." The macula is a small but crucial part of the retina responsible for central vision. It allows one to see fine details and perform activities like reading and recognizing faces. In AMD, the cells in the macula break down, causing damage to the central part of the retina. This damage results in reverse tunnel vision or a loss of central vision and can lead to blurriness or distortion in the center of the visual field. Unlike tunnel vision, where peripheral vision diminishes, AMD primarily affects the central part of the visual field, and therefore, it is denoted as reverse tunnel vision.

Conclusion

Of course, peripheral vision loss or tunnel vision will significantly impact the quality of life. But finding strength and ways to correct it is the right way to look at it. Seek a doctor immediately after an early sign develops so that the ophthalmologist can help chart a treatment plan to prevent complete vision loss.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

What Does It Mean When You Have Tunnel Vision?

Tunnel vision means a constricted view. It is associated with peripheral vision loss (side vision is lost). It can be caused due to stroke, daibetic retinopathy, glaucoma, optic neuritis, and migraine. It can be either temporary or permanent, based on the underlying condition causing it.

2.

Is Tunnel Vision a Metaphor?

Tunnel vision is a word used as a metaphor to describe a situation in which a particular person is not able to think about any other thing or fact apart from what he or she is focused on at that time. It often helps to express a person’s biased opinion or inability to include other opinions about a situation or an incident.

3.

Can You Get Tunnel Vision From Stress?

Yes. Stress can cause tunnel vision. Extreme stress in a person will result in the excessive production of adrenaline. This will result in the shrinking of peripheral vision. Only the objects in the front of the eyes will be visible. Coping with stress will help heal from tunnel vision.

4.

Is Tunnel Vision a Good Thing?

Tunnel vision will affect a person’s ability to see things through peripheral vision. It is often caused by diabetic retinopathy, migraine, stroke, glaucoma, etc. It is a serious condition and will heal only when the underlying medical conditions are treated. If left untreated, tunnel vision can affect a person’s quality of life greatly.

5.

How Do You Know If You Have Tunnel Vision?

A person affected by tunnel vision will have peripheral vision loss. Because of this, the images and objects on the sides cannot be seen. Only the objects placed in front of the eye can be seen.

6.

What Is the Opposite of Tunnel Vision?

Tunnel vision includes loss of peripheral vision, causing an inability to view things on the side, and only the objects placed in a direct path can be seen. Opposite of this is age-related macular degeneration. Macule is the light-sensitive part of the retina of the eye, responsible for central vision. Due to age, the macular layer degenerates, causing loss of central vision, and only the peripheral vision will be intact.

7.

How Do You Beat Tunnel Vision?

Tunnel vision is caused by various underlying medical conditions like glaucoma, stroke, diabetic retinopathy, migraine, optic neuritis, etc. To manage or treat tunnel vision, the underlying medical condition causing it should be treated first. For example, in the case of glaucoma, eye drops will be prescribed to reduce the eye pressure by draining the fluid. Laser therapy will also be suggested. In case none of these seems effective, surgery is the last hope.

8.

Can You Drive With Tunnel Vision?

Driving with a tunnel vision condition can be difficult. Focusing on the roads and vehicles is difficult even with a normal vision, especially at night. With peripheral vision loss, it becomes more difficult.

9.

Can Lack of Sleep Cause Tunnel Vision?

Sleep deprivation for straight 18 hours has been found to cause some changes in vision. Tunnel vision is one of the changes observed due to sleep deprivation. Double vision is another condition caused due to sleep deprivation.

10.

Does High Blood Pressure Cause Visual Disturbance?

Retina is the layer present at the back of the eye and is responsible for receiving signals and producing images for vision. When a person has high, uncontrolled blood pressure, the retina gets damaged and results in various visual disturbances like blurred vision, dim vision, double vision, and even loss of vision in some.
Dr. M. Anjali Shelbi
Dr. M. Anjali Shelbi

Ophthalmology (Eye Care)

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retinitis pigmentosaretinal detachment
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