The term “tunnel vision” is used to describe a restricted field of vision where you can see straight ahead, but vision to the sides, or peripheral vision, is lost. Also called loss of peripheral vision, or tubular vision, tunnel vision is much like looking through a small tube. People with tunnel vision often have trouble navigating in dim lighting, such as in a dark movie theater.
This article explains the causes of tunnel vision. It also explains whether tunnel vision is an emergency, as well as what it’s like to live with the condition.
What causes tunnel vision?
Many conditions can lead to tunnel vision. These may include:
- Retinal detachmentan emergency that occurs when a layer of tissue at the back of the eye separates from the blood vessels that supply it with oxygen
- Glaucomaa group of conditions that can cause blindness and are often caused by higher than normal eye pressure
- Optic neuritiswhich describes inflammation of the optic nerve or fibers that transmit visual messages to the brain
- Retinitis pigmentosaa rare inherited eye disease that damages the back of the eye or the retina
- Loss of blood in parts of the brain or eyes
- Tumor or abnormal tissue growth, pressing on the optic nerve
- Stress and anxiety, which can make existing tunnel vision worse or cause it
- Brain trauma
True tunnel vision is most commonly associated with severe glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa, optic neuritis, and retinal detachment.
An often underreported cause of tunnel vision is pseudotumor cerebri, or false brain tumor. This condition occurs when the pressure around the brain increases due to fluid buildup around the brain and spinal cord. This can cause vision problems and headaches.
Extremely stressful situations, such as a panic attack, can sometimes lead to tunnel vision. The experience of high acceleration, which can impact fighter pilots and those participating in certain extreme sports, can also cause tunnel vision.
Is tunnel vision an emergency?
Any type of vision loss or visual disturbance can be quite alarming. The sudden onset of tunnel vision can be very dangerous and should be treated as a medical emergency.
However, when tunnel vision develops in connection with progressive vision loss associated with certain eye conditions, such as glaucoma, it is not considered a medical emergency. Your eye doctor will closely monitor vision changes while you are undergoing treatment.
What is life like with Tunnel Vision?
Peripheral vision plays an important role in detecting movement outside your field of vision without turning your head. It can help drive, play sports, and generally move around without bumping.
If a person has tunnel vision, they will need to exercise extreme caution when navigating their surroundings. Driving, reading, playing sports, moving around in low light conditions and taking walks can seem difficult without peripheral vision. Individuals may also feel startled when approached from the side.
Tunnel vision, or loss of peripheral vision, is most commonly caused by certain eye conditions. However, other conditions can also lead to tunnel vision.
Tunnel vision should be treated as a medical emergency unless it develops due to progressive vision loss associated with an eye condition.
Tunnel vision can impact how an individual navigates their environment and can make certain tasks particularly difficult.
A word from Verywell
If you suddenly develop tunnel vision, see a doctor as soon as possible. Although this condition cannot be reversed, early treatment could prevent further vision loss.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the symptoms of tunnel vision?
The main symptom of tunnel vision is the loss of peripheral vision. However, depending on the cause, some may also have blurred vision and need more light to see properly.
Is tunnel vision caused by anxiety?
Anxiety and stress can make existing eye conditions worse, including tunnel vision. High levels of long-term stress and anxiety can also be a major cause of conditions associated with tunnel vision, such as glaucoma.
What does it mean when you lose peripheral vision in one eye?
Peripheral vision loss can affect one or both eyes due to various conditions. Sudden loss of peripheral vision in one eye should be treated as a medical emergency.