Sudden Changes in Vision Demand Urgent Attention
Sudden loss of part or all of one's vision, though rare, is extremely serious, and is usually a symptom of a significant problem that may also be causing a problem elsewhere in your body..
What constitutes sudden vision loss? It does not necessarily have to be complete loss of vision. It could be a partial loss of vision, or a blurring of the visual field. In some cases the affected area might just be the periphery, and often the vision loss only affects one eye. In other cases, the vision loss may appear as a gray splotch that blocks sight. Sometimes the loss of vision might only last a few moments. In other cases, the impairment can last minutes or even hours, or the rest of your life.
Sudden vision loss is usually attributable to ischemia, or a reduction of the amount of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues of the eyes, resulting in temporary or permanent damage to the retina. It is like a stroke of the eye. Ischemia has several causes and can appear in different forms. It may indicate uncontrolled or high blood pressure. A treatable condition that may save your vision and may abort a stroke.
Amaurosis fugax (‘fleeting blindness”) lasts from a few moments to several minutes, and disrupts the peripheral vision, before progressing inwards, much like fade out in a movie. With this condition, other symptoms include temporary loss of feeling on one side of the body, and impaired speech. Though it bears many striking similarities, it in and of itself does not constitute a stroke, but rather is a strong indicator that one is at risk of suffering a stroke, since amaurosis results from reduced blood flow through the arteries that lead to the eyes. This form of vision loss is most common in adults 50 years of age and older.
An ocular migraine may cause transient wavy vision or a blind spot in one or both eyes. It may last 10 to 50 minutes. The visual aura may or may not be followed by a headache. This transient loss of vision can be quite disturbing. Some individuals have migraine triggers or there may be a combination of factors that together may result in a migraine headache.
Another cause of sudden vision loss in older individuals is giant cell arteritis. This is an auto-immune disorder in which the blood vessels, especially those around the eyes, become inflamed and swollen reducing blood flow. The symptoms are similar to but in some cases not as abrupt as those that accompany amaurosis. However, vision loss due to giant cell arteritis may be permanent and irreversible.
Vision loss can also occur as a result of increased intracranial pressure. Hypertension can cause decreased circulation resulting in a stroke in the eye. Vision loss can also be the result of a tumor, although generally the onset of the vision changes is less abrupt.
Recently, sudden vision loss has also been connected to impotence drugs such as Viagra, Cialis and Levitra. Although the number of documented cases of vision loss in users of these drugs is extremely rare, it is nonetheless a serious occurrence. Some users of these drugs have suffered partial or total vision loss. Anyone who has considered taking these medications would be wise to be screened for a "disk at risk" by an ophthalmologist. A disk at risk is considered a small crowded optic nerve head.
If you have experienced sudden loss of some or all vision in one or both eyes call a doctor immediately! Don't wait. Get an appointment with an ophthalmologist immediately. If it is not possible to find an ophthalmologist in a timely matter, go to the emergency room. Vision loss can be indicative of much more serious issues that it is vitally important to diagnose quickly and treat.