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9 Causes of Tunnel Vision and Loss of Peripheral Vision

tunnel vision

Tunnel vision, a term that often evokes images of a narrow, tubular field of view, is a medical symptom that significantly impacts one’s spatial awareness.

It’s not just a phrase used to describe someone’s focused mindset; it’s a real and sometimes alarming vision issue. But what exactly is it, and why does it occur?

Understanding Tunnel Vision

tunnel vision

Tunnel vision is also called peripheral vision loss, where an individual can only see what’s directly in front of them, akin to looking through a tunnel. This condition primarily affects the side vision, leaving the central vision intact.

Imagine a scenario where your vision is limited to a small circle straight ahead, with everything else appearing dark or blurry. That’s the visual disturbance many experiencing tunnel vision face.

What is Peripheral Vision?

Peripheral vision, often called side vision, is the part of our sight that detects objects outside our direct line of sight. It’s what allows us to see things “out of the corner of our eye.”

This form of vision plays a crucial role in our daily activities, from driving to playing sports, and even simple tasks like walking. A sudden peripheral vision loss can be disorienting and even dangerous, as it affects our spatial awareness and ability to navigate our surroundings.

The Role of the Optic Nerve

The optic nerve plays a pivotal role in our vision, transmitting visual information from the retina to the brain. Any damage to this nerve, whether from inflammation, injury, or other conditions, can lead to vision loss, including tunnel vision.

Mental Health and Tunnel Vision

It’s worth noting that tunnel vision isn’t always a result of a physical condition.

Intense stress, anxiety, or panic attacks can cause temporary tunnel vision. The body’s “fight or flight” response can lead to narrowed vision, focusing only on the threat straight ahead.

This type of tunnel vision occurs temporarily and it underscores the intricate connection between our mental health and vision.

Causes of Tunnel Vision

There are several underlying causes of tunnel vision, each with its unique implications:

Ocular (involve the eye) causes of peripheral vision loss include:

  1. Glaucoma: This condition damages the optic nerve due to high pressure in the eye. It initially affects peripheral sight, and if left untreated, can lead to permanent vision loss.
  2. Diabetic retinopathy: One of the leading causes of tunnel vision is diabetic retinopathy. High blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels in the retina, leading to vision problems. In the early stages, there might not be any noticeable symptoms. However, as the condition progresses, it can lead to blurred or distorted vision and eventually causes tunnel vision.
  3. Optic Neuritis: Inflammation of the optic nerve can cause sudden vision loss, causing tunnel vision and color blindness.
  4. Retinal Detachment: A medical emergency where the retina detaches from its underlying tissue, leading to vision loss, including tunnel vision.
  5. Ocular Stroke: Interruption of blood flow to the eye and retina can result in sudden vision loss among other symptoms.
  6. Retinitis pigmentosa: A genetic disorder that affects the retina’s ability to respond to light, leading to night vision problems in the early stages. As the condition progresses, the loss of peripheral vision or tunnel vision develops.
Glaucoma Virtual Reality Experience

Non-ocular causes of peripheral vision loss include:

  1. Migraine and its visual disturbances: Some individuals experience temporary tunnel vision as a visual disturbance before or during a migraine attack. These episodes typically don’t last more than 1 hour.
  2. Cerebral Stroke: Interruption of blood flow to the brain can result in sudden tunnel vision among other symptoms.
  3. Brain Tumors or Lesions: Abnormal growths or lesions in the brain can exert pressure on the pathways that transmit visual signals, leading to peripheral vision loss. Depending on the location and size of the tumor, it can affect the visual field and cause tunnel vision.

It’s essential to understand that while some causes result in temporary tunnel vision, like migraines, others can lead to permanent vision loss if not addressed promptly.

Importance of Early Detection

Experiencing tunnel vision, even if temporary, warrants immediate medical attention. Early detection and treatment can prevent permanent vision loss in many cases.

A comprehensive dilated eye exam by an eye doctor can identify the underlying cause and initiate appropriate treatment options.

Whether it’s managing steady blood sugar levels to treat diabetic retinopathy or using eye drops for glaucoma, early intervention is the key to preserving eye health.

Diagnosis of Tunnel Vision

Tunnel vision, a condition where peripheral vision is compromised, leaving only central vision intact, can be a daunting experience. It’s like looking through a narrow tube, with everything on the sides appearing blurred or non-existent.

But how do medical professionals diagnose this condition, and what treatments are available?

Comprehensive Dilated Eye Exam

The first step in diagnosing the cause of tunnel vision is a comprehensive dilated eye exam. This procedure allows the eye doctor to get a clear view of the back of your eye, including the retina and optic nerve.

It can help identify any abnormalities or signs of diseases like retinitis pigmentosa or diabetic retinopathy that might be causing peripheral vision loss.

Visual Field Test

visual field test

A visual field test is another diagnostic tool used to determine the extent and pattern of vision loss.

This test measures both central and peripheral vision, helping doctors understand the degree of tunnel vision and its potential causes.

tunnel vision
normal visual field test showing the natural blind spot (right eye)

Optic Nerve Examination

The optic nerve plays a pivotal role in transmitting visual information from the eye to the brain. Any damage or inflammation to this nerve can lead to vision loss. An examination of the optic nerve can provide insights into whether it’s a contributing factor to the tunnel vision.

Treatment Options

Addressing the Underlying Cause

The treatment for tunnel vision largely depends on its underlying cause. For instance:

  • Glaucoma: Medications and surgical procedures can help reduce the internal pressure of the eye, preventing further damage to the optic nerve.
  • Diabetic Retinopathy: High blood sugar levels can damage the eye’s blood vessels, leading to vision problems. Laser treatment can help seal leaking blood vessels, while eye drops can reduce inflammation. The most important aspect of treatment is controlling the blood sugar levels.
  • Optic Neuritis: Steroids and other treatments can reduce inflammation and restore some vision.
  • Retinal Detachment: Surgical procedures can reattach the retina, preventing permanent vision loss.
  • Retinitis Pigmentosa: While there’s no cure for this genetic disorder, visual aids and visual rehabilitation can help individuals cope with the vision loss.
  • Cerebral Stroke: Rehabilitation and medications may or may not restore some vision. This depends on how quickly therapy is initiated. An additional goal of treatment will be to prevent future strokes.

Lifestyle Changes

Managing conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure through lifestyle changes can prevent further vision loss. This includes maintaining steady blood sugar levels, regular exercise, and a balanced diet.

Improving overall health will also reduce the risk of stroke.

Living with Tunnel Vision

Living with tunnel vision can be challenging, as it significantly impacts one’s peripheral sight. This condition restricts the visual field, making it seem as though you’re looking through a tube. However, understanding the condition and taking preventative measures can make a world of difference.

Adapting to the New Normal

For many, tunnel vision develops gradually over time. As peripheral vision loss increases, individuals might find it challenging to navigate their surroundings, especially in low light or night vision scenarios.

Visual disturbances, like sudden peripheral vision loss, can be alarming. However, with the right tools and adaptations, one can lead a fulfilling life.

Utilizing Visual Aids

Visual aids, such as magnifying glasses or specialized software, can be beneficial. These tools can help individuals read, recognize faces, and perform daily tasks more efficiently.

Moreover, wearing glasses or contact lenses correctly can also enhance vision, especially if the tunnel vision is due to refractive errors.

Seeking Visual Rehabilitation

Visual rehabilitation programs offer training to help individuals maximize their remaining vision. This can include techniques to use their peripheral sight more effectively or strategies to navigate their environment safely.

Preventative Measures

Regular Eye Exams

One of the best ways to prevent further vision loss is by having regular eye exams.

An eye doctor can conduct a comprehensive dilated eye exam to check for conditions like retinitis pigmentosa or diabetic retinopathy, which can cause tunnel vision.

Early detection is crucial, as it allows for timely treatment and can prevent permanent vision loss.

Managing Underlying Conditions

Many underlying conditions, like high blood pressure or diabetes, can lead to vision problems. Managing these conditions, ensuring controlled blood sugar levels, can prevent complications like diabetic retinopathy.

Adhering to prescribed eye pressure drops can allow better control of eye pressure and reducing the risk of progressive glaucoma.

Seeking Immediate Medical Attention

If someone experiences sudden loss of peripheral vision, it’s essential to seek immediate medical attention. Conditions like retinal detachment and stroke are medical emergencies and require prompt treatment to prevent permanent vision loss.

Staying Informed

Organizations like the National Eye Institute offer resources and information about tunnel vision and eye conditions like retinal detachment, retinitis pigmentosa, and glaucoma. Staying informed and understanding the causes of tunnel vision can help individuals take proactive steps towards eye health.


Tunnel vision, while restrictive, doesn’t mean the end of a normal life. With the right adaptations, treatments, and preventative measures, individuals can navigate their world with confidence.

Regular check-ups with an eye doctor, managing underlying health conditions, and using visual aids can make a significant difference.

Remember, early detection and intervention are key. Whether it’s temporary tunnel vision or a more permanent condition, understanding and addressing the underlying cause can pave the way for a brighter visual future.