Vision Disturbances Caused From Anxiety

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Anxiety may be experienced as episodes of worry, panic or even constant days of being on edge and fighting off the desire to withdraw from public, marital or even workplace pressures and worries. Anxiety can result in vision changes such as hallucinations, sensitivity to light and differences in experiencing an environment or even reality. Anxiety can also cause vision-changing migraines. If the anxiety or panic is severe, it should be treated with psychiatric medication, which may stop the anxiety and its effect on vision and perception.

Side profile of an anxious woman holding her forehead.
Side profile of an anxious woman holding her forehead.

Peripheral Hallucinations

Peripheral hallucinations occur when hallucinations take place in the peripheral vision range of the eyes, or out of the corner of the eyes. These hallucinations can vary widely from person to person, depending the amount of stress, anxiety or duress they may be under. Some may report seeing only a blur of color or a shape pass by, while others may see a shadowy figure or something quite terrifying and ominous.

Close up of eye looking to the side.
Close up of eye looking to the side.

Vision Perception Changes

Perception of depth and height may change during times of extreme fear. A person may have trouble identifying the space, height and dimensions of his surroundings as well as his relativity to it. A shrinking or feeling of distortion in time and space can occur, especially during severe panic or anxiety attacks. During acute times of stress or anxiety, the body shuts down every function happening in the body that is not necessary. For example, digestion stops because it is not necessary. Only responses to fear are shuttled to the brain, which may be one reason why these strange sensations become so prominent and are focused upon.

Height perception.
Height perception.

Sensitivity to Light

Sensitivity to light is usually caused by pupil dilation. The pupil dilates as a response from fear. While experiencing fear, the sympathetic nervous system causes the pupils to dilate. The sympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic system, which is not controlled by the brain. The autonomic system can trigger primitive responses to fear stimuli or anxiety such as pupil dilation so that the eyes may bring in more light. However, if someone is suffering from anxiety and possibly panic attacks, this response will be activated at inappropriate times and flood the eyes with light, making seeing and concentration more difficult instead of easier. At this point the eyes may begin to experience small “floaters,” star, ring or string-like objects obscuring normal vision.

Bright light.
Bright light.

Hallucinations

Hallucinations may seem like gross misrepresentations of appropriate responses to anxiety; however, the presence of anxiety and panic accumulating into stress severe enough to produce hallucinations is quite possible. Psychotics, who may or may not suffer hallucinations, struggle with constant fear. In fact, people who experience feelings of constant fear are often treated with antipsychotics. This seems to suggest a link between psychosis and anxiety in some cases, which may develop into hallucinations that are not only peripheral but wholly visual as well.

Hallucination in bright light.
Hallucination in bright light.

Expert Insight

Anxiety has the power to express itself through visual changes, and these visual changes should not be ignored or disregarding. Usually, the vision changes will persist and sometimes even worsen if left untreated. They are important signals that the anxiety being experienced is real and valid, even if the trigger of the anxiety is unknown at the time of onset. It should be evaluated by a physician as soon as possible.

Young male doctor.
Young male doctor.

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