Not all symptoms of anxiety are obvious. There are several symptoms that are unusual enough that most people convince themselves they're caused by something other than their anxiety - some type of more serious health problem that requires a doctor's attention. One example is seeing spots.
The only way to diagnose any visual spots you have is by seeing a doctor, so always make a doctor's appointment if you have any concerns. But in some cases, anxiety really can make you see spots, and can make the act of seeing spots cause more anxiety.
Seeing Spots = Anxiety?
Anxiety can change your visual field, and cause a host of different symptoms that can cause even more stress. Take my free 7 minute anxiety test to learn more about seeing spots and how to cure anxiety.
Anxiety Affects Vision
Anxiety can genuinely change your vision in a way that can be stressful, especially if you're not expecting it. It may do so in many different ways - ways that will be explored in this article. But the key to understanding vision problems isn't to worry about the vision itself. It's to worry about the anxiety.
Take my free 7 minute anxiety test to get a better idea of what symptoms may be related to anxiety and how you can treat them.
Different Types of "Spots" with Anxiety and their Causes
"Spots" are not a very clear term, and the idea of having visual spots invokes fear in a lot of people. That is likely because on television and in movies, "seeing spots" occurs when someone is poisoned or about to pass out. Also, the eyes are connected to the brain, and many people are afraid that something is wrong with their bran when their eyes start to have more spots in them.
One of the problems though is that people describe these spots differently, and may be talking about different problems when referring to how they see spots.
Type 1: Visual Snow
One type of "spot" that people might see is visual snow. Visual snow is when you look at something dark against a lighter background, often in low lighting, and you see what looks like rapid snowflakes falling across your field of vision:
(image source: Wikipedia)
Visual noise can cause a great deal of fear in people, because one of the first things you notice on its Wikipedia page is that visual snow can be caused by Multiple Sclerosis, or MS. MS is one of the major fears of those with panic attacks and severe anxiety, since so many of the same symptoms are linked to multiple sclerosis.
It's impossible to rule out an MS diagnosis without first seeing a doctor. But you should note that MS is a rare disease, and one that doesn't usually manifest itself in minor symptoms. So while it's conceivably possible that those with visual snow have MS, it's also highly unlikely.
It's not clear why those with anxiety seem to have visual snow. One theory is that the visual snow is natural - many people experience this type of vision problem with no apparent cause at all - and that those with anxiety are simply more prone to noticing it and worrying that something is wrong. It's also possible that adrenaline causes changes to the eye that causes this snow to occur, or that eye strain and tiredness may play a role.
Visual snow is worth getting checked out, especially if you're having problems reading, but it is also a sign of anxiety and generally not something to be too concerned about.
Type 2: Tunnel Vision and Fight/Flight Changes
It is known that the adrenaline rush that occurs during the activation of your fight or flight system do appear to change your vision. Generally it creates a type of "tunnel vision," where your eyes focus on something in front of you and the rest of the world is blurred out.
It also makes your eyes more sensitive to light by dilating your pupils, and in some cases this excitement may lead to the appearance of spots. Each person also "sees" these changes differently.
Since anxiety causes a constant firing of the fight or flight response, your eyes may be suffering from these types of issues.
Type 3: Flashes and Visual Floaters
Clinically, when doctors are talking about seeing spots, they're referring to visual floaters. Visual floaters are small, circle like blobs that may clump together and pass through the visual plane.
This can be caused by aging, diabetes, or nothing at all. They're believed to only be a concern when they happen very quickly and flood your field of vision without letting up - in those cases, you may have a retina problem.
It's also something that occurs very often in those that have migraines. This is especially important for people with anxiety - anxiety does tend to trigger symptoms of migraines. Sometimes these will occur with headaches, but there are also "silent migraines" that occur with no headaches at all, and these too many cause visual symptoms.
So it's possible that your anxiety is triggering various types of migraines. They may even occur with flashes of light, which are a common migraine issue.
Remember, anxiety also has a tendency to create hyper-awareness, and that means that it's possible for you to feel as though you're experiencing some type physical problem even though your "Spots" are natural, and nothing to worry about. Many people have the occasional visual floaters, and these may have nothing to do with anxiety or any other health condition. But those with anxiety often feel extreme distress after nothing these visual problems.
Other Visual Spots
Many people report seeing all types of spots when they have anxiety. Some people see what looks like very tiny fireworks in their field of vision. Others experience a small blur almost as if someone had pushed in their eyes and let go.
It's impossible to tell you whether or not something is wrong without testing your eyes, so you should contact a doctor if you're concerned. But rarely do vision problems simply "go away" if they're something more serious. If they only last for a very short time and come during times of high anxiety, there is a very strong chance that they're simply a reaction to anxiety - or your anxiety is a reaction to them, but they're otherwise harmless.
How to Stop Seeing Spots
Vision is one of the few things that you can't control. If your anxiety is causing you to see spots, then you simply need to wait it out and try to control your anxiety. Some people find that closing their eyes for a while so that the vision problems are less obvious can be calming, but in general, any vision issue caused by anxiety should go away on its own.
The key is going to be prevention. It's crucial that you start learning to prevent your anxiety from occurring in order to prevent yourself from experiencing these vision changes. It's also important to address your anxiety so that you can make sure that you're not triggering your anxiety every time you experience a normal vision change.
I've helped many people with visual problems overcome this anxiety. You have to start off with my free anxiety test. It's the only way to see what your symptoms are and how to address them.
So, start the test here.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.