What Are Visual Distortions?

Visual distortions can affect your ability to see normally. Often called visual disturbances, they can cause changes in eyesight such as blurry or wavy vision. Different medical conditions may cause visual distortions.

This article will explain more about visual distortions and your treatment options.

Eye Anatomy and Function 

To understand visual distortions, it is helpful to learn about eye anatomy and function. The eye has different parts, including the:

  • Cornea: Clear, outer layer of the eye that is located in the front and focuses light
  • Iris: Colored portion of the eye that controls how much light enters
  • Lens: Clear part of the eye that is behind the iris and is important for focusing light
  • Macula: The center of the retina that allows you to see details and colors
  • Optic nerve: A sensory nerve that carries information
  • Pupil: An opening in the center of the iris that allows light in
  • Retina: Tissue in the back of your eye that senses light and sends information to the brain through the optic nerve
  • Vitreous gel: Transparent and colorless mass that fills your eyeball

Problems with different parts of the eye may lead to impaired vision and visual disturbances.

What Are Visual Distortions?

Visual distortions are things that affect your eyes and vision. There are different types of visual distortions, including:

Causes and Associated Conditions

Different medical conditions can cause visual distortions. Make sure to talk to your eye doctor about any new or changing visual disturbances.  

Common causes include:

  • Aneurysm: Enlargement of an artery; causes vision loss
  • Astigmatism: Problems with the curvature of the eye; causes blurry vision at both near and far distance
  • Autoimmune conditions: Disorders that cause the immune system to attack healthy tissues and organs in the body; causes blurry vision and vision loss
  • Brain tumor: Growth of abnormal cells in the brain; causes double or blurry vision and vision loss
  • Cataracts: Eye lens becomes cloudy; causes blurry vision, halos, vision loss, and problems seeing in dim light
  • Diabetes: Blood sugar is too high; causes blurry vision, double vision, and vision loss
  • Dry eyes: Eyes feel dry, gritty, or scratchy; causes blurry vision
  • Epiretinal membrane/cellophane maculopathy: Membrane forms over the retina (often inside the macula); causes blurred vision that may become very distorted
  • Farsightedness: Difficulty seeing objects up close; causes blurry vision for objects near you.
  • Head injury: Blow to the head; causes blurry or double vision, trouble focusing the eyes, and problems with peripheral vision (side vision)
  • Hypertension: High blood pressure; causes blurry vision and vision loss
  • Infection: Disease from microorganisms; causes blurry vision
  • Inflammation: Body's reaction to infection or injury; causes vision loss, eye pain, and blurry or dim vision
  • Macular pucker/vitreomacular traction (VTM): An epiretinal membrane contracts and warps the macula; causes severely distorted vision that can progress to a macular hole, which causes a missing spot in your vision or loss of central vision
  • Migraine: Severe headache with other symptoms; causes auras such as flashing or blinking lights and blind spots
  • Nearsightedness: Difficulty seeing objects far away; causes blurry vision for objects far from you
  • Retinal disease: A disorder that affects the retina; causes wavy lines, double vision, dark spots, vision loss, floaters, and blindness
  • Stroke: Loss of blood flow to the brain; causes double and blurry vision, vision loss, and blind spots
  • Trauma: Physical injury; causes double or blurry vision, dark spots, and blind spots

There are many conditions associated with visual distortions. It is important to see a doctor and discuss your symptoms for a proper diagnosis.

Associated conditions include:

  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD): Eye disease that causes you to lose your vision slowly over time (dry AMD) or more rapidly (wet AMD); causes blurry, distorted vision and makes straight lines appear wavy
  • Glaucoma: Increased eye pressure that damages the optic nerve; causes blurriness, halos, and loss of peripheral vision
  • Optic neuritis: Inflammation of the optic nerve; causes pain with eye movements and visual disturbances
  • Optic neuropathy: Damage done to the optic nerve due to impaired blood supply; causes vision loss in one eye and may cause pain
  • Retinal detachment: Retina pulls away from the back of the eye; causes floaters, flashes of light, and sometimes a curtain coming up over your vision

Risk Factors

Although it is not possible to prevent all types of visual distortions, there are certain risk factors that increase your chance of having eye problems, such as:

  • Not having regular eye exams
  • Not wearing the correct prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses
  • Not wearing safety googles when necessary
  • Not wearing sunglasses outside
  • Not getting medical care after a head or eye injury
  • Having uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • Having uncontrolled diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol in excess
Visual Distortion Risk Factors

Verywell / Jiaqi Zhou

Tests and Treatments

Your doctor may do the following tests:

  • Amsler grid test: You look at a grid to detect blind sports or vision distortion.
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: This is a detailed computerized X-ray scan.
  • Dry eye testing: These tests include the Schirmer test to check for moisture and the tear film breakup time (TBUT) test to check for how long the layers of tears in your eyes last after you blink.
  • Eye exam
  • Fluorescein angiography: Fluorescent dye is used to view the blood vessels in the back of the eye.
  • Fundus autofluorescence imaging: This detects fluorescence (glowing after absorption of light) in your eye structures that can develop in some conditions.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Powerful magnets are used to create detailed imaging.
  • Optical coherence tomography (OCT): This imaging test uses near-infrared light waves to view the interior of the eye.
  • Physical exam
  • Visual fields test: This test checks your field of vision in four quadrants.

Your treatment options depend on the cause of the blurry vision. They may include:

  • Eye drops
  • Eye supplements
  • New glasses, sunglasses, and contact lenses
  • Prescription eye medications
  • Surgery

Summary

Visual distortions are symptoms, such as halos or wavy lines, that affect your ability to see. Many medical conditions can cause them. Visual distortions may not always be a sign of a serious problem but still should be taken seriously. You should talk to your doctor and get an eye exam.

A Word From Verywell

It is important to remember that not all cases of visual distortion are a reason to worry or a sign of a serious medical problem, but you should have them checked by an eye doctor. If the visual distortions are new or changing, you should see an eye doctor immediately or go to the emergency room.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are all visual distortions a sign of a serious medical problem?

    No, some visual distortions happen because of migraines or other conditions that are not an emergency. However, since self-diagnosis can be difficult and incorrect, you should see your eye doctor to determine if you have a serious medical problem.

  • Why am I seeing wavy lines?

    Wavy lines can be a sign of different eye conditions. You should talk to your eye doctor and get an eye exam.

  • Do wavy lines in my vision mean I am going blind?

    Wavy lines can be a symptom of many conditions. One of them is AMD, which can cause blindness if not treated. Make sure you get an eye exam and talk to your doctor to get a diagnosis.

  • How do stress and anxiety affect vision?

    Stress and anxiety may cause visual distortions and affect your overall health. For example, stress can trigger a migraine, which can lead to seeing auras in your visual field. 

  • Does aging cause visual distortions?

    Aging does have an impact on your eyesight. As you get older, you may develop presbyopia. This is a condition that makes it difficult to focus on objects near you. Your eye doctor can correct this with glasses.

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4 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. MedlinePlus. Vision problems.

  2. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Eye anatomy: Parts of the eye and how we see.

  3. Johns Hopkins. Neuro-visual disorders.

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Seeing double? Get your vision checked promptly. Updated February 6, 2018.