6 Early Warning Signs of Vision Loss

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Eyesight tends to disappear more gradually than suddenly. In fact, the warning signs of vision loss in adults can be so subtle that you don't even notice them until a "nuisance" complaint, like trouble focusing or irritation, sends you for an overdue eye exam. That's when an unrelated but more serious vision robber, like glaucoma, may be discovered.

"That's why a baseline exam at age 40 is important," says San Francisco ophthalmologist Andrew Iwach, a spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "You may not have major symptoms, yet have a major problem."

Certain warning signs of vision loss, however, can be seen right under -- er, over our noses.

Warning sign: Your vision is clear one minute, fuzzy a few hours later.

Might be: Diabetic retinopathy. Fluctuating clarity -- sometimes you see fine, sometimes everything's blurry -- may mean that you have a chronic condition such as uncontrolled type 2 diabetes or uncontrolled high blood pressure that can damage the fine blood vessels of the retina, causing vision damage.

Watch for: Changes in visual clarity that happen throughout the day. Some people find it difficult to continue to do close tasks, such as reading or sewing. Pay attention to whether you have other possible signs of diabetes or high blood pressure. If you're diagnosed with one of these conditions, take special care to have regular eye exams. The odds of developing retinal damage increase the longer you have diabetes.

Warning sign: You've had a recent and inexplicable traffic accident.

Might be: Glaucoma. Admittedly, a million things can cause a fender-bender. But a loss of peripheral (side-to-side) vision is a key warning sign of glaucoma, a silent disease in which building pressure on the optic nerve begins to obscure vision because images can't be fully transmitted to the brain. Several studies have found that drivers with glaucoma have an increased risk of accidents, according to a 2011 Review of Ophthalmology report. A 2008 study paired glaucoma patients with a driving instructor and found they needed six times as many interventions from the instructor than age-matched control drivers did.

Watch for: Bumping into things or people is another indicator of losing side vision. Noticing behaviors is useful, Iwach says. The reason: "People don't usually recognize when they lose side vision because it happens slowly and the eye is designed so well that it compensates for changes until late in the disease." Because it's essentially symptomless, most glaucoma is caught during routine exams.

Warning sign: There's a frustrating dark or empty patch at the center of your vision.

Might be: Age-related macular degeneration. AMD is the leading cause of severe vision loss in people over age 50, according to the American Optometric Association. Changes to macula, part of the retina, cause this incurable sight-stealer. (A less common form, called "wet macular degeneration," can be treated with lasers.)

Watch for: Look at a straight line and it may appear wavy. Sometimes people with macular degeneration bob their heads a bit as they try to see "around" the smudgy patch. People with AMD may have trouble reading street signs, or they may give up reading or other close work, such as needlework. There may also be changes to color perception -- everything looks a little washed out.

More early warning signs of vision loss

Warning sign: Your eyelid looks funny.

Might be: Skin cancer. Not all harbingers of vision loss involve vision. Changes in the appearance of the eye itself, including the eyelid, can foretell problems. The thin, delicate tissue of the eyelid is one of the most common sites for basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. While these types of cancer are rarely fatal, they often cause serious damage and blindness, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Watch for: Eyelids that look droopy or asymmetrical, a lump or bump, persistent bleeding or irritation that doesn't go away, or a dark spot on the lid. "Any change in the appearance of the eye itself warrants getting checked out," ophthalmologist Andrew Iwach says.

Warning sign: There's a brownish tint to your vision.

Might be: Cataracts. A clouding of the lens that can affect vision in just one or both eyes, cataracts are so common that by age 80, more than half of all Americans will either have cataracts or have had surgery to correct the condition, according to the National Eye Institute.

Watch for: Generally blurred vision, as clumps of protein reduce the sharpness of the image reaching the retina. This happens so slowly that people are seldom aware of it in the early stages. As damage increases with age (usually not until the 60s but sometimes as early as the 40s), the lens takes on a brownish or yellowish tinge rather than being clear. This can cause vision to be dulled, cloudy, and slightly "dirty." Color perception can become distorted -- socks that look black to you are actually more vivid purple ones, for example. Other symptoms include being irritated by the glare of sun or lights, seeing halos around lights, and poor night vision.

Warning sign: You see a flurry of "flashes and floaters."

Might be: Impending retinal detachment. Usually a sudden event, it's considered an emergency requiring immediate care (usually surgical reattachment). But many people experience a period of increasing flashes before a retinal tear occurs.

Watch for: A greater-than-usual number of little spots and light bits seeming to float before your eyes, and with increasing frequency. Seeing some flashes and floaters is common -- they're images of particles floating in the vitreous fluid of your eye. The red flags are increased amount and frequency, as well as an increase in seeing flashes of light.

"Any difference in what's normal for you merits a call and probably an exam," Iwach says. "The older we get, the busier we get taking care of our families -- and, unfortunately, the less likely we are to take care of ourselves."

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio

over 2 years, said...

Hi there was wondering if someone could help please ease my worrying mind,basically I wear glasses my eye site isnt that bad tbh I only use glasses for the computer and reading,the past couple of months or so though I have noticed at night say if im watching tv in the pitch black with no light I will go to the toilet turn the light on and when I role my eyes 360 degrees to the left I can see what it looks like a dark shade almost a similar effect when you put a filter over a camera,this only happens at night,could it be the sudden light change from darkness to bright ? seems like the logical explanation.

almost 3 years, said...

The other week, I saw an amazing new book on the news that teaches readers how to exercise their eyes so that they will naturally see 20/20 again (read it here: WWW.QUANTUMVISIONS.INFO) I do all exercises every day for about 15 minutes and I noticed that I can read and drive without glasses just after 2 weeks… I just took an eye test for my drivers license and passed without a problem. I don’t do all of the exercises but I’m always conscious of ways to practice during my daily routine. It works.

almost 4 years, said...

Just a slight correction to a typo. I took the Lithium 25 years AGO, not for 25 years. ;>)

almost 4 years, said...

Great post! I just wanted to add, for anyone who takes ANY kinds of meds, that meds can cause PERMANENT vision damage, not just temporary vision loss or blurring. Read those labels! Your doctor won't tell you most of the time. In my case, Lithium taken over 25 years for a couple of years increased my intraocular pressure so much that I permanently lost most of my vision in my left eye. It has not worsened over the years. I have the same vision I had in 1992 and I'm pushing 70. I stopped taken Lithium in 1992 as well. The bottom line is to scrutinize med labels to see if they increase intraocular pressure. Why? Because if you hit your head (as happened to me) while having high intraocular eye pressure, you can permanently lose some or all of your eyesight. Why? Because high Intraocular pressure makes your eyes inflexible and easily injured from a blow from a fall or car accident. Thank God I still see well in the other eye.

almost 4 years, said...

I liked "what to watch for." My reading vision has become increasingly blurry, and thia gives me some practical tips,

almost 4 years, said...

I am a Type 2 Diabetic, aged 73 and have recently had two cataracts removed. What a difference it has made. I have no need for reading glasses now. However I have noticed that my eyes get a bit watery these day. I do get my eyes checked and photographed at regular intervals due to my diabetes. The "bad" side of my experience was that I went to an Ophthalmologist, March 2013. He arranged for a review Jan 2014, not indicating any problems in March I went to see my Optometrist for an annual check in October 2013. He immediately diagnosed Cataracts in both eyes and referred my to a different Ophthalmologist. He removed the cataracts in December 2013 an January 2014 Conclusion: they came on very quickly or the first bloke I went to was not with it. Diabetics please be aware.

almost 4 years, said...


almost 4 years, said...

I am 84. Had cataract surgery a few years ago and no longer wear glasses for reading, distance or anything else. See my opthalmologist twice a year but am glad to know what to watch for.

almost 5 years, said...

Lots of straightforward, useful info that will be easy to retain.

almost 5 years, said...

As a diabetic I was aware of most of these problems, but no harm done as a timely reminder, and to continue to monitor all the conditions described. Thanks for the article.

almost 5 years, said...

I forgot to mention, my mother had macular degeneration which was unfortunately right in the middle of her field of vision, so they couldn't use lasers to help her. I think it was the wet version. I was told at the time that it was hereditary.

almost 5 years, said...

About a month ago, when I was at work, I could see a very dark shadow of a vein in one eye. It eventually went away, but now the right side of my vision is a little cloudy in that eye. I only notice it in daylight, and once while working on the computer (which I do daily). Sometimes I can blink and it seems to move, and I almost never notice it when I'm inside. Occasionally it feels like something is there, but I can't see anything. I've had floaters since I was a child, and I was told that if I ever see flashing lights to go immediately to the emergency room, but that hasn't happened. Until I reached my 30's, my vision was always BETTER than 20/20. I've worn glasses now for about 15 years, but I rarely need them for distance. I just turned 60. I'm a teacher so vision is important to my profession. I work a lot of hours, and haven't been able to get around to calling a doctor. Other than that, any suggestions?

almost 5 years, said...


almost 5 years, said...

The Caring.com articles I read are usually timely and time-sensitive. This one about 6 early warning signs of vision loss is not only helping me (I recently had a delayed eye exam and got new glasses) but I think others will benefit as well. Somehow, vision, hearing, etc. is becoming more social and therefore makes people - or populace if you will - more interconnected. As time goes by humanity is just going to have to wake up and get moving! I am reluctant to send a hug (it might be considered risky behavior) but hope that my general prayers find you in the continued good hands of God.

over 5 years, said...

i am pauline dodd ..76 yr.old female ....i had both eyes operated for cathrac surgery about 7 yrs ago ....had 20/30 vision great .. no glasses .. then in april 2012 .. i notice my right eye i wasn't seeing as good .. checked it out .. i had wet macular degeneration.. so far i have had 5 shots in the eye .. can't tell if it helps or not .... going to keep taking the shot .. but i notice on here .. the wet eye. they can do lasier surgery ......i go back to the dr. the 8th of this month .. am going to talk to him about the lasier surgery ... i hope to get good news ..... thanks pauline from smithville tn.

over 5 years, said...

My Doctors have told me I have wet macular and then the next tme they say dry, so now I am not sure what I have. :(

over 5 years, said...

I have had trouble with reading and tv for witch i am supposed to wear perscription glasses. Unfortunatly i have no insurance so have not kept my glasses current, but for about the past year and half i noticed my sight is MUCH worse, i can no longer see package instructions, no longer read witch i love, my vision seems foggy alot. thanks for this info. ill be getting that exam asap. Thank-You

over 5 years, said...

Treatment options,esp. natural/herbal remedies, should be explored.

over 5 years, said...

Yes,this was is,(extremely)helpful,to me,and I am going to continue to be honored,to share this excellent information,with others.mrs Mary Goodfriend

over 5 years, said...

All of the article was informative, since I am 81 my vision is very important! and thank you for the great website!

over 5 years, said...

Thank you so much for this article! I have been having flashing lights or streaks like fireworks in my left eye for almost 3 years. Now I will go to my eye doctor and tell him about it!