This article was updated on March 16, 2021.
Are you having trouble with your vision? The following signs and symptoms can indicate a medical emergency or an urgent condition that could cause significant vision loss over time. In most cases, you should see your eye doctor as soon as possible if you experience:
1. A sudden onset of spots and floaters in your field of vision
Usually, eye floaters are due to a benign, age-related condition called vitreous detachment. This occurs when the eye’s gel-like interior liquefies and separates from the retina, the light-sensitive inner lining of the back of the eye.
But a sudden onset of spots and floaters also can be caused by a serious, sight-threatening tear or detachment of the retina. If you suddenly see a shower of spots and floaters, see an eye doctor immediately.
2. A sensation of a dark curtain across your field of view
This could be caused by a retinal detachment, which occurs when the retina separates from the underlying layer of nourishing blood vessels (choroid). If the retina is not reattached within hours, vision loss can be permanent.
3. Sudden eye pain, redness, nausea, and even vomiting
These symptoms can signal a sudden (acute) attack of narrow-angle glaucoma, which can permanently damage the eye’s optic nerve. Immediate treatment is required to prevent permanent vision loss. Blurry vision, ghost images and nighttime halos around lights all can be warning signs of eye problems.
4. Double vision or “ghost” images
Double vision can be caused by many eye conditions. In some cases, double vision also can signal an underlying health emergency such as a stroke. If you have a sudden onset of double vision, see an eye doctor immediately.
5. Sudden blind spots
If you are over 60, your chance of developing a macular hole in the most sensitive part of the retina increases. Because macular holes can worsen and cause permanent loss of vision, it’s important to see an eye doctor immediately if you notice a gray area or blind spot when viewing objects with one eye.
6. A narrowing of your field of view
A reduction of your ability to see objects off to the sides could be a sign of glaucoma. Without intervention, peripheral vision loss could continue to worsen, leading to tunnel vision or even blindness.
7. A gray, blurry or distorted spot in the center of your visual field
These symptoms may be caused by macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness among older Americans. In the past, there was no effective treatment for macular degeneration. But today, new medical treatments sometimes can halt or limit AMD-related vision loss.
8. Poor night vision, halos around lights, or less vivid color vision
These vision changes may be due to cataracts. Cataracts tend to worsen gradually over time and are not a medical emergency. Nevertheless, as your eye’s natural lens continues to cloud with aging, your vision will continue to deteriorate unless you have cataract surgery that replaces your cloudy lens with a custom intraocular lens (IOL). If you wait too long for cataract surgery, you increase your chance of complications such as glaucoma. Also, if cataract surgery is postponed too long, the cloudy lens can harden and become more difficult to remove.
9. Blurred vision and gray areas in your visual field
If you have diabetes, these vision problems may be due to the onset of diabetic retinopathy. Regular eye exams are essential for diabetics, particularly if you are over age 60. By evaluating the condition of your retina, your eye doctor can provide valuable information to your general physician about the control and severity of your diabetes.
10. Red, “scratchy,” irritated eyes
These signs and symptoms are most commonly due to dry eye syndrome. Dry eyes usually are more of a nuisance than a sight-threatening condition. But symptoms can be severe, particularly as you grow older and your body produces fewer tears or your tear chemistry changes. Consult your eye care practitioner for advice about remedies, which may include over-the-counter or prescription eye drops.
It’s much better to prevent age-related eye problems than to try to minimize their impact on your vision after they have begun.
You can reduce your risk of developing serious eye problems later in life by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and having routine eye exams. Eye vitamins and good nutrition also may reduce your risk of certain eye problems.
Visit your eye doctor
The best way to protect your eyes as you age is to make sure you have a comprehensive eye exam at least every two years.
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