Tunnel Vision: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Tunnel vision is the loss of your side, or peripheral, vision. The vision that remains may appear tunnellike, hence the name "tunnel vision." It's caused by several types of eye conditions, such as glaucoma and retinal detachment.

This article addresses the symptoms associated with tunnel vision, as well as possible causes and treatments.

Ache from tunnel vision

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Symptoms of Tunnel Vision

Tunnel vision is a loss of your peripheral vision. With tunnel vision, you have trouble seeing or won't be able to see objects outside of your central field of vision. You may be more prone to tripping over things due to tunnel vision, or it may be harder for you to drive or navigate through a crowd.

Other symptoms that you may develop will depend on the cause of tunnel vision. These symptoms may include other types of vision loss (like loss of central vision) and trouble seeing in areas with low lighting.

It is also possible to experience tunnel vision without any other symptoms. For instance, glaucoma, one cause of tunnel vision, often does not cause any other symptoms until its later stages.

Causes of Tunnel Vision

The most common causes of tunnel vision are glaucoma, retinal detachment, and retinitis pigmentosa.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness around the world. It's caused by increased pressure in the eye. Although glaucoma does not always have symptoms, one description of vision loss that occurs with glaucoma is "looking through a straw."

Retinal Detachment

Retinal detachment is a medical emergency caused by the retina, a light-sensitive tissue, separating from the back of the eye. This can cause sudden blurry vision and floaters and flashes in your field of vision. You also may feel as if a gray curtain is moving across your field of vision or a shadow is in your side vision.

Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP)

Retinitis pigmentosa is a rare genetic disease that damages your retina and changes the way the retina reacts to light. Depending on your genetic type, RP typically runs a gradual course: It starts at a young age, and by middle age, you are experiencing loss of vision. Vision loss usually begins with poor night vision, then advances to loss of side vision (leading to tunnel vision), with eventual loss of central vision.

Other Causes

Other causes of tunnel vision include:

How to Treat Tunnel Vision

Treatment for tunnel vision will depend on the cause.

For glaucoma, there are various medicated eye drops that an eye doctor may prescribe to help lower eye pressure. The medications cannot reverse vision loss that has already occurred, though they can help to reduce further vision damage. Surgeries can also help treat glaucoma and slow further vision loss.

For tears or holes in the retina, laser (photocoagulation) or freeze (cryopexy) treatments can help repair tears or holes in your retina. For retinal detachment, treatment requires surgery. Surgeries used for retina detachment include:

  • Pneumatic retinopexy: Your eye-care provider injects a gas bubble into the eye that will push the retina to stay in place. Eventually, your eye makes fluid that will replace the gas bubble, and the gas bubble can be removed.
  • Scleral buckle: In this procedure, a rubberized or soft plastic band around the eye works against the force that makes the retina move out of place.
  • Vitrectomy: This surgery involves replacing the vitreous (clear fluid that fills the eye) with a bubble of air, gas, or oil. The bubble helps move the retina in place to heal it.

There is no definitive treatment for RP, although researchers are attempting to find possible treatments. A type of medication injected in the eye called voretigene neparvovec-rzyl can help treat a form of RP caused by the RPE65 gene. This is injected into the eye during a vitrectomy.

Complications and Risk Factors Associated With Tunnel Vision

Without treatment, the most significant complication associated with leading causes of tunnel vision is further vision loss or blindness. This can occur for untreated glaucoma or retinal detachment. No treatment can prevent vision loss for most forms of retinitis pigmentosa, but the disease will not cause total blindness.

Are There Tests to Diagnose the Cause of Tunnel Vision?

A thorough eye exam can help determine the cause of tunnel vision. One common test that an eye doctor will perform is a dilated eye exam. During a dilated eye exam, an eye doctor will put drops in your eyes to make your pupils wider. This makes it easier to examine the back of the eye for signs of glaucoma or a retinal detachment.

Other types of tests that an eye doctor may use to determine the cause of tunnel vision include:

The exact tests will depend on what your provider suspects is causing your tunnel vision.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

You should see a healthcare provider if you experience sudden, new tunnel vision. If an eye doctor is not available, go to the emergency room. This can help rule out the possibility of a retinal detachment, which is an emergency.

If you experience gradual tunnel vision over several weeks, schedule an appointment with an eye doctor.

Summary

Tunnel vision is the loss of your peripheral, or side, vision. Tunnel vision may be your only symptom, but you may also experience other vision changes or have trouble seeing in low light. Common causes of tunnel vision are glaucoma, retinal detachment, and retinitis pigmentosa.

An eye doctor can perform various tests during an eye exam to help determine what is causing your tunnel vision. Treatments are available to prevent further vision loss.

A Word From Verywell

Any type of vision loss can be scary. It's important to see an eye doctor for sudden vision loss, including tunnel vision, to help determine the cause and get treatment. If you are living with a chronic eye disease that can cause loss of your side vision, use medications as recommended by your healthcare provider and make sure to keep up with your medical appointments.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes tunnel vision?

    Tunnel vision can be caused by glaucoma, retinal detachment, and retinitis pigmentosa. It also can be caused by optic neuritis, a tumor, a stroke, migraines, anxiety, and brain trauma.

  • How do I know if I have tunnel vision?

    If you have tunnel vision, you may bump into things more often, fall more frequently, have trouble seeing at night, and may find driving more difficult. You might also experience other changes to your vision.

  • How can I get rid of tunnel vision?

    You should see an eye doctor or other healthcare provider to help pinpoint the cause of your tunnel vision. You can begin any necessary treatment, most often eyedrops or eye surgery, after determining the cause. Some causes of tunnel vision, like retinitis pigmentosa, may not have a specific treatment.

9 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.
  1. UCLA Health. Tunnel vision.

  2. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What is glaucoma?

  3. Hu CX, Zangalli C, Hsieh M, et al. What do patients with glaucoma see? Am J Med Sci. 2014;348:403–409. doi: 10.1097/MAJ.0000000000000319

  4. Yale Medicine. Retinal detachment.

  5. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Detached retina.

  6. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What is retinitis pigmentosa?

  7. National Eye Institute. Laser surgery and freeze treatment for retinal tears.

  8. National Eye Institute. Retinitis pigmentosa.

  9. Glaucoma Research Foundation. Five common glaucoma tests.

By Vanessa Caceres
Vanessa Caceres is a nationally published health journalist with over 15 years of experience covering medical topics including eye health, cardiology, and more.