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Can Anxiety Cause Blurred Vision?

Micah Abraham, BSc
Can Anxiety Cause Blurred Vision?

It's amazing all of the ways that anxiety can affect your body. Some people find that anxiety causes chest pains. Others find that anxiety makes their legs feel like jelly. Still others find that anxiety affects their vision.

Any unexpected vision problem should warrant a visit to the doctor. Only a trained medical professional can diagnose the cause of changes to vision. But for some people, blurred vision may be one of the symptoms they experience during periods of anxiety. 

What makes blurry vision such a challenging anxiety symptom for those that struggle with it is that it is an anxiety symptom that tends to lead to further anxiety. It can be stressful to find that something appears disrupted with your vision, and if you suffer from anxiety attacks, that stress can trigger panic episodes. 

Thus, blurred vision may be a sign of anxiety, and in some cases, anxiety may actually be caused by blurry vision.

Causes of Blurry Vision

Blurry vision may happen at any moment when you suffer from anxiety, but they're most common during periods of intense anxiety brought on by panic attacks/anxiety attacks or a response to a specific anxiety producing event (like a phobia).

There are two distinct issues that cause vision problems from anxiety. These are:

Pupil dilation is a direct response of an overactive fight or flight system. When you have anxiety – especially an anxiety attack – your body reacts as though it is about to experience something profoundly dangerous (as if you encountered a lion). That triggers your nervous system to react by releasing adrenaline, which triggers several physiological changes including a faster heartbeat, blood that rushes to the muscles, sweating to cool you down, and more.

One of these reactions is to dilate your pupils. The evolutionary goal of this is to help bring in more light so that you can successfully fight or flee with better vision. But more light doesn't necessarily make vision easier, so some type of blurred or problematic vision may result.

Another common cause of blurred vision is hyperventilation. Many people with anxiety – especially those that have anxiety attacks – find that they hyperventilate often, because their breathing has essentially changed in a way that causes breaths that are too fast. This causes you to breathe in too much air and breathe out too much carbon dioxide, and when your body is thrown off balance blurry vision is often the result.

Blurry vision may also be caused not by anxiety itself, but by the coping tools a person uses to try to minimize their anxiety. For example, a person may struggle with blurry vision because they have tried to numb their anxiety with alcohol and/or drugs. There is also some evidence that anxiety causes eye strain, which in turn can lead to blurry vision - especially if you are on a computer often, as eye strain while on a computer is known to trigger blurry vision symptoms.

Blurred Vision May Be A Symptom or a Trigger

When you're hyperventilating, blurry vision may actually worsen your anxiety symptoms. That's because those experience blurry vision may start to experience more anxiety as they worry about why their vision has changed. They may also notice their blurry vision more than someone without anxiety because those with anxiety attacks have a tendency to become over-sensitive to changes in their body.

Hyperventilation itself is also a known panic attack trigger. As you're hyperventilating and your eyes become blurry, you may start to experience a panic attack. That panic attack may cause you to hyperventilate further, which causes your vision to become more blurry.

Furthermore, every once in a while your eyes may be a bit blurry for no reason. Short term vision changes happen to everyone. But if you suffer from anxiety, you may unintentionally respond to those vision changes in a way that makes your anxiety worse, as they may trigger an anxiety attack or further anxiety.

How to Prevent Blurred Vision

You can't control your vision. If blurry vision occurs, you simply need to wait for your anxiety to calm down in order for your vision to return to normal or take special care to reduce secondary issues that may be leading to the symptom, like eye strain. 

Closing your eyes for a while may help a little, since it will reduce how much you worry about your vision, but ultimately you'll simply need to wait out your anxiety until it gets better.

But you can prevent blurry vision by curing your anxiety and stopping your panic attacks. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a great place to start, as it has shown itself to be effective at curing several different types of anxiety. You may also find that exercise helps a lot, since a calmer body tends to be less prone to anxiety attacks.

Blurry vision can be an inconvenient, stressful, and scary anxiety symptom. It always helps to double check with your doctor to ensure that it is caused by anxiety. But if it seems that anxiety is the cause, your best course of action is to start learning to manage your anxiety and your blurry vision should reduce as a result.

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