When is Blurred Vision a Medical Emergency?

Dr. Russel Lazarus, May 18, 2021
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A problem with any part of the eye, such as the retina, optic nerve or cornea, can suddenly cause blurred vision.

Slowly progressive blurred vision is usually caused by long-term medical conditions. Sudden blurring is most often caused by a single event.

Some instances of sudden blurred vision are medical emergencies that must be treated as soon as possible to prevent permanent damage and vision loss.

Contact an eye doctor near you who can evaluate the cause of your blurred vision.

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When is blurred vision a medical emergency?

1. Strokes

There are two types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. When a blood clot blocks an artery transporting blood to the brain, an ischemic stroke occurs. When a blood vessel in the brain ruptures, the result is a hemorrhagic stroke, which is less common.

Strokes can cause a sudden, severe headache and blurred vision in one or both eyes.

Other symptoms often associated with strokes include sudden:

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty speaking and understanding speech
  • Numbness or weakness of the arm, face, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Trouble walking, dizziness, and loss of balance or coordination

Strokes may have life-threatening and permanently debilitating consequences if they are not treated quickly. If a person suspects they or someone close to them is having a stroke, they should call for an ambulance right away.

2. Traumatic brain injury

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a type of head injury that causes damage to the brain. There are different types of brain injuries, including concussions and skull fractures.

A jolt, hit, blow, bump, or penetrating objects cause most TBIs.

The symptoms of a TBI vary depending on the part of the brain that was injured and the extent of the damage. While some TBI symptoms occur right away, others may take days or weeks to appear.

Symptoms of TBI can range from mild to severe, depending on the extent of the damage. Symptoms may include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Mood changes, such as irritability
  • Ringing in the ears

People with a mild TBI should temporarily limit doing certain activities that can stress their brain or increase the risk of reinjury, such as playing sports or computer work. Always follow your physician’s advice.

Severe TBI can be life-threatening without treatment. The treatment for TBI depends on the extent, location, and severity of the injury.

3. Carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, tasteless and odorless gas present in the fumes that burning fuel creates.

Carbon monoxide binds to hemoglobin, the red protein in blood that transports oxygen throughout the body, as people breathe it in. Hemoglobin is unable to transport oxygen to organs and tissues when it’s bound to carbon monoxide.

A headache and vision problems, such as blurred vision, are common signs of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Since carbon monoxide deprives the brain and body of oxygen, it causes a number of symptoms.

Additional symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:

  • Dizziness
  • Chest pains
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Upset stomach and vomiting

People with mild to moderate carbon monoxide poisoning should get themselves away from the poisonous gas and seek medical treatment immediately.

4. Angle-closure glaucoma

Angle-closure glaucoma is where fluid in the front part of the eye is suddenly blocked from draining out of the eye, causing eye pressure to rise quickly.

Symptoms include headache and severe pain in or above the eyes. Other symptoms include:

  • Changes in your vision, including blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Redness and pain in the eyes

If you have any of these symptoms seek help right away.

Angle-closure glaucoma is a medical emergency that requires treatment to decrease the pressure and the inflammation inside the eye.

Many things can cause your vision to suddenly become blurred. When treatment is delayed, some can result in vision loss.

Other medical emergencies are also caused by retinal diseases, retinal detachments and corneal burns.

Schedule an appointment with an eye doctor near you about any sudden unexplained changes in your vision.

If you believe you may be experiencing a TBI, carbon monoxide poisoning or are having or stroke, seek medical attention immediately.