Coping With Living With One Eye

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Following illness or injury, some people may find themselves living with one eye—also known as having "monocular vision." Once this vision loss occurs, it may be overwhelming to think about what comes next, especially in situations where the loss was sudden. Here's how to cope with living with one eye from the emotional, physical, social, and practical standpoints so you can continue to live a full life.

woman with one eye working

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Emotional

People who find themselves with any type of serious, unexpected vision loss—including living with one eye—tend to go through seven different emotional phases of adjusting to their new life. Like any other type of loss or trauma, everyone processes losing vision in one eye differently, so keep in mind that these stages are broad categories and not a timeline that is set in stone. The seven emotional phases are:

  1. Trauma: The immediate emotional response to a life-changing, tragic, and/or stressful event.
  2. Shock and denial: Having thoughts like: "This is not happening to me," feeling emotionally and mentally numb, having hope for an unrealistic miracle that will restore the lost sight.
  3. Mourning and withdrawal: Feeling as though all is lost, grieving various aspects of a former life (everything a person could do before with full sight that they're no longer able to do), experiencing anger, followed by withdrawal.
  4. Succumbing and depression: The feeling of "giving in" to lost independence and abilities, as well as the onset of depressive symptoms, including despair, discouragement, disinterest, distress, despondency, and disenchantment.
  5. Reassessment and reaffirmation: Reaching a turning point and realizing that life is still worth living.
  6. Coping and mobilization: Learning to manage to live with one eye and focusing on the abilities a person still has—rather than what they've lost.
  7. Self-acceptance and self-Esteem: Coming to terms with one's abilities and limitations with monocular vision, eventually achieving self-approval and self-respect.

Also, it's important to note that being blind in one eye—or having an eye that is missing completely—does not qualify a person to receive disability benefits. For someone already dealing with the emotions that come with facing their new reality of living with one eye, finding out that they don't qualify for disability benefits can feel like another blow.

Physical

When a person loses sight in one eye, there is no guarantee that their doctor will walk them through the process of adjusting to monocular vision or set them up with resources or occupational therapy. Frequently, this is left up to the patient and their support system of friends and family. And while most people manage to develop coping strategies that work for them—to the point where they're able to resume most of their everyday activities and responsibilities—it's also helpful to understand some of the major challenges they'll face, and ways to overcome them.

In general, it typically takes approximately one year for someone who experienced the sudden loss of vision in one eye to adjust to their new life with monocular vision.

Increased Risk of Falling or Bumping Into Things

Given that people living with one eye likely have both a limited field of vision and challenges with depth perception, they may find themselves tripping, falling, or bumping into things more frequently than before. Here are some strategies to help reduce the risk of these types of accidents:

  • Make sure paths around the house are kept clear
  • Touch objects, walls, etc. to get a better sense of location
  • Get used to turning your head to allow you to see a more complete picture of your surroundings
  • Put colored tape at the edge of stairs and steps
  • Use handrails when available

In addition to the increased risk of falling, people with monocular vision also may experience physical symptoms including eyestrain, fatigue, glare, photosensitivity, and neck pain from turning their head frequently.

Exercises to Retrain Your Vision

It is possible to help retrain your working eye so it gets used to being in charge of the entirety of your vision. Here are a few exercises and minor behavior changes you can make to manage your loss of depth perception and range of vision:

  • Practice reaching for different objects to get a better idea of how far away something is from you
  • Make an effort to turn your head from side-to-side to expand your line of vision
  • Walk along a straight line (like a sidewalk crack or a piece of tape on the floor) to improve your balance
  • Play catch with someone, or throw a ball or other small object at a target

Social

People living with one eye also face social challenges—many stemming from being self-conscious about their monocular vision, as well as the fear or anxiety over interacting with other people.

It's also possible for them to experience psychosocial difficulties with basic skills like making and maintaining eye contact, grasping objects, pouring drinks, and shaking hands. In some cases, this can lead to social anxiety and withdrawal from social situations.

One thing that can help with the social aspect of living with one eye is joining support groups and communities for those going through the same thing—either online or in person. Examples include groups like LostEye and VisionAware, as well as dedicated Facebook groups.

Use of Prosthesis if Eye Is Injured

If you've experienced the loss of an eye due to injury or illness, know that there are many different prosthetic options available, if you decide to go that route. Understandably, people may feel uncomfortable in social situations if they have an empty eye socket, so a prosthesis may help increase self-confidence and self-esteem.

Practical

Other than walking without falling, there are many other everyday tasks that people living with one eye need to get used to doing. Here are some ways to account for changes in depth perception and range of vision:

  • Maximize the lighting in your home, including with desk or floor lamps with adjustable arms
  • Organize your home and have a place for everything
  • Learn to recognize the shapes of items and objects you use frequently
  • Store all medications in one location, and ensure that their labels are easy to read—relabeling them if necessary
  • Use caulking, raised rubber, or plastic dots to mark the settings on the controls of your stove, oven, and toaster, so you're able to determine the setting even if you're having difficulty seeing it.

Driving With One Eye

Not only is it possible to drive with one eye (assuming that you have good vision in your remaining eye) it's also legal in many states. Though there isn't a federal law dictating whether people with monocular vision can drive, it is up to each state to determine these regulations. Of course, like everything else, it will take some time and practice to get used to driving with one eye, so you may want to look into specialized driving classes in your area.

A Word From Verywell

Getting used to living with one eye is a major adjustment. If it takes a while to process the initial shock and trauma, understand that that's normal in situations like these. And while life with monocular vision will have certain limitations, most are ones you can work on and work through to ensure that you maintain a similar quality of life.

Finally, don't neglect your mental and emotional health. Seek out a support group or talk to trusted family members or friends if you're struggling. You may also find it beneficial to speak with a mental health professional—at least while you're still processing the loss.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Vermont Association for the Blind (VABVI). Qualifying for disability benefits with vision loss. Updated July 31, 2018.

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  7. Living Well With Low Vision. State vision screening and standards for license to drive. Updated April 2020.