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There are lots of reasons your vision may get blurry, but some are more serious than others.
Crystal-clear vision is what we’re all aiming for, so it’s only natural to worry when things get a little fuzzy. Blurred vision can have many causes — from something as harmless as tired eyes to as severe as a stroke. We’ll break it down so that you know when you should seek help immediately and when it’s okay to wait. (Keep in mind: Even with conditions that don’t require emergency attention, you should check in with your optometrist sooner rather than later.)
4 Times When Blurry Vision Doesn’t Require an Urgent Trip to the Eye Doctor
1. When it’s caused by dry eye
Dry eye is a common complaint, affecting nearly 16 million Americans. It happens when your eyes don’t make enough tears or when the tears don’t work the way they should. The most common side effects are burning or scratchy sensations in one or both eyes. But blurry vision can also occur.
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Dry eye has many causes, including dry indoor air or staring at a computer or television screen for too long. It could also be a side effect of a medication. If dry eye is interfering with your daily life, schedule an appointment with your optometrist to find out what you can do for relief. One easy fix is to use moisturizing eyedrops or gel drops once in the morning and once before bed.
There are lots of options; your optometrist can recommend one that’s right for you.“Every time you brush your teeth, put a drop in,” suggests Michelle Esmaeili, O.D., an optometrist with America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses in Rancho Cucamonga, California.
2. When it’s the result of eyestrain
One unfortunate side effect of sitting in front of a computer or reading a book is that our eyes can develop focus issues. Over time, the stress on your up-close vision caused by computer work and reading can make your vision turn blurry or give you a headache, Dr. Esmaeili says.
If you struggle to focus while reading or using a computer, make an appointment to see your optometrist. Even if you have 20/20 vision, you may still benefit from a pair of computer glasses — “just a light prescription to alleviate that stress,” Dr. Esmaeili says.
It’s also a good idea to take regular breaks from up-close activities. “Every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to look as far away as you can and then go back to what you were doing for 20 minutes. Do that over and over again,” Dr. Esmaeili says.
3. When cataracts are the culprit
A cataract is a cloudy spot in your eye lens that can make your vision blurry or less colorful. Other symptoms to know: Your glasses prescription may change often, you may have trouble seeing at night, or you may have double vision.
Cataracts are a common effect of aging — more than half of Americans age 80 or older have them, notes the National Eye Institute. Around age 40, the proteins in the lens of your eye start to break down and clump together. This creates a cloudy area (cataract) over time. It’s not an emergency, the NEI says, but if your cataracts get in the way of everyday activities, your optometrist may refer you for surgery to have them removed.
4. When you’ve been driving in the dark
If your vision tends to blur during nighttime driving, your eyes may be sensitive to the dramatic changes in light.
“Typically, when we’re driving at night, our pupils are bigger. So when oncoming headlights and traffic lights get right into our big pupils, that can be very uncomfortable for our vision,” Dr. Esmaeili says.
If blurry vision means you don’t feel safe driving at night, head to your optometrist’s office to get a pair of driving glasses. These are non-prescription glasses that have an anti-reflective coating on the lenses to help minimize the reflection from streetlights and oncoming headlights. If you wear prescription eyeglasses, you can ask for anti-reflective lenses.
“Anti-reflective lenses can’t alleviate that constriction of your pupils, but they can clear up the image so it doesn’t feel like lightbulbs are coming at you,” Dr. Esmaeili says.
3 Times When Blurry Vision Warrants an Immediate Visit to the Eye Doctor
1. Ocular migraines
Ocular (also known as retinal) migraines are a type of migraine that can cause your vision to get fuzzy all of a sudden. A headache often follows. Ocular migraines tend to be triggered by stress, tiredness, bright lights, or smoking, according to Tufts Medical Center.
“If you feel like your vision is suddenly blurry, then you want to get your eyes checked out right away,” Dr. Esmaeili says. In a lot of cases, ocular migraines are distressing but not dangerous. Your optometrist can help you develop a game plan to prevent another episode.
That said, if you get ocular migraines regularly, your optometrist may need to refer you to a neurologist for a more complete evaluation.
2. Diabetic retinopathy
If you have diabetes and your blood sugar levels stay elevated for too long, it could cause damage to your retina, a condition known as diabetic retinopathy. You may not notice changes right away, but over time you’ll likely experience blurry vision that comes and goes.
Any vision changes should prompt you to make an appointment right away. And even if your vision is unaffected so far, diabetic retinopathy can lead to blindness when left untreated. So if you have diabetes, it’s essential to get regular eye exams. Early treatment can stop the damage.
Another reason to stay up to date with your eye exams? Diabetes in its early stages often comes without symptoms — meaning it’s possible to have the condition without knowing it. But your optometrist can pick up on the warning signs during a routine eye exam.
3. Eye stroke
An eye stroke can happen when your eye doesn’t get enough blood flow, leading to sudden vision loss. “Those are not common, but I do see them,” Dr. Esmaeili says.
Unfortunately, you may not get much warning before an eye stroke. Or in some cases the vision loss may not be sudden, but you may not even realize it has happened “because the other eye will often compensate for the loss of vision,” Dr. Esmaeili says. (To see if one of your eyes may be compensating for the other, try these optometrist-recommended self-checks here.)
If you do notice symptoms, they might include a loss of vision in one eye upon waking, a dark shadow that affects the upper or lower half of the visual field, loss of visual contrast, or light sensitivity, according to Penn Medicine.
Eye strokes are more common in middle-aged and older adults and people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease. “That’s more reason why, if you have any underlying conditions, it’s a good idea to get your eyes checked regularly, just to rule out some of those serious issues,” Dr. Esmaeili says.
According to the American Optometric Association, adults without vision problems should have a complete eye exam at least every two years until age 64 and every year beginning at age 65. Depending on your health history and vision problems, your optometrist or primary care physician may recommend more frequent eye exams.