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February 2nd, 2011
08:51 AM ET

What is blurry vision a symptom of?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Wednesdays, it's Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society.

Question asked by Melinda of Oklahoma

I have had episodes of blurriness in my right eye and vertigo with difficulty walking. I have had five of these episodes within the past six months and most only last 5-10 minutes. There is no pain involved, just right eye blurriness and trouble walking. The worst episode lasted 30 minutes and was accompanied with nausea and the vertigo and walking was extremely impaired. I am a 51-year-old female in good health.
Expert answer

These symptoms merit an immediate visit to an emergency room. I encourage anyone with symptoms such as these to see a physician quickly. Indeed, anyone who has had these kinds of problems and not gotten medical evaluation should still go see a physician even if the symptoms have gone away.

The physician will listen to you describe your symptoms in detail, examine you, and get some laboratory blood studies. The physician will be very interested in questions about heart disease, especially rhythm problems such as atrial fibulation. A history of hypertension, cholesterol and triglyceride problems and diabetes is also very important.

The physician will create a differential diagnosis. This is a list of conditions that may be causing your symptoms. Once that list is created, a workup plan of further testing is created.

Without benefit of the above information, I will say I worry that you may be having transient ischemic attacks. These are commonly called TIAs or mini-strokes. It is an episode of focal neurologic dysfunction caused by decreased blood flow to an area of the brain, spinal cord, or retina. In a TIA, the episode abates without permanent injury usually in less than 24 hours and some times lasts only minutes. TIAs differ from strokes, in that a stroke involves permanent death of a part of nerve tissue.

The blurriness can be due to temporary blockage of blood flow to the area of the brain that processes vision from the right eye or to the retina on the right. Similarly, difficulty walking, dizziness and nausea can be due to decreased blood flow to specific areas of the brain.

TIAs are caused by structural blockage of a blood vessel. This is most commonly due to atherosclerosis or certain types of inflammation of blood vessels. Partial blockages can sometimes cause blood clots. These clots can dissipate before permanent damage is done. Other causes of decreased blood flow involve increased blood thickness.

The high blood sugar of out-of-control diabetes can cause the blood to be syrupy and not able to flow into small arteries. Rarely this phenomenon is seen in patients with blood diseases such as a condition called polycythemia vera, or chronic leukemias.

A TIA needs to be diagnosed early. It can often be treated to prevent it from evolving into a stroke and permanent neurologic damage. Patients with a history of TIAs should be followed carefully by a skilled physician as they have a higher risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke. This risk can be reduced with aggressive therapy. Most will be treated medically, but some may need surgery to clear the carotid arteries of cholesterol plaque or repair other blood vessels.


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soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. U.R. AboutRite

    What is blurry vision a symptom of?
    1. Defective vision
    2. One too many.
    3. A short right to the old schnozolla.
    4. The morning after the night before.

    February 2, 2011 at 10:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. ANOTHER STATISTIC

    I AM TWENTY-FIVE, AND HAVE BOUGHTS OF BLURRY SPELLS. I DON'T THINK I AM HAVING A MINI STROKE OR ANYTHING CLOSE TO THAT. MINE ONLY LAST FOR 5-10 SECONDS BUT ARE MORE OFTEN THAN 5 OR SO TIMES IN A SIX MONTH PERIOD. SHOULD I BE CONCERNED?

    February 2, 2011 at 11:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. attage

    Blurry vision should be taken seriously. I had a friend who was about 25 and had blurry vision in one eye. Her father, being a doctor, took her to the emergency room right away. They discovered she had a form of leukemia that rapidly advanced and took her life within 6 months. She only had a fighting chance because they were able to diagnose it so quickly because of the blurry vision. Go get these symptoms checked out!

    February 2, 2011 at 12:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. SAM

    Being DRUNK...and also the loss of memory too..So ya cannot blames this on PSAAIVE SMOKE or SMoking......

    February 2, 2011 at 13:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Demara

    Good to know, but come on – who'd be stupid enough to NOT have a sudden inability to see checked out?

    February 2, 2011 at 13:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Darrell

    although I agree – go see a doctor. But also ask about Meniere's disease. It's a condiition that comes and goes due to the fluids in your system no being able to drain / flow properly. Do your ears ring constantly ? Or prior to an episode ? This may also be signs. I was unaware of the ringing as ... my ears have rung for as long as I have been alive – I know nothing else. When people spoke about ringing ears, I thought they were joking. .... But I too have had serious bouts of vertigo, walking, sitting, lying on a floor doesn't help either. All onsets are sudden, without warning (although now, I can sometimes see them coming, never an exact time or day – just ... they're coming). Worst one was vertigo, nausea, cold sweats, blurred vision ... lasted 45 minutes before I could see straight. At times like this, you have to tell yourself, you know your body, and ignore the senssory inputs from vertigo and blurred vision. It's damned hard, but if you are driving (no, I wasn't) or even just standing, it could save you from simple dangers as falling and hitting your head on a corner or something worse.
    These bouts are one of the best rushes I've been on to date (just kidding) ...... but seriously, get checked out. It could be simple, it could be not-so simple. Prevention is the best medicine.

    February 2, 2011 at 13:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Linda

    Similaarsymptoms on Mystery Diagnosis turned out to be peernicious anemia – lack of vitamin B-12. Might be a possibility in this case.

    February 2, 2011 at 14:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Leo

    This is really funny to me. I've been getting episodes of blurry vision similar to what the questioner here described. I'm currently being followed by a rheumatologist for a connective tissue disease (auto-immune stuff). I did test positive for one abnormal clotting test. So I mentioned the blurred vision episodes to him. He told me to ask the ophthalmologist that I see for plaqueil screenings. The ophthalmologist said my eyes looked textbook perfect, and to ask a neurologist. So I had an appointment with the neurologist, who didn't even give me a hypothesis, and seemed more interested in the episodes of numbness and tingling in my hands and feet, and completely IGNORED my complaints of episodes of blurry vision.

    So, what's a guy supposed to do, eh? I've had my vision go blurry while driving (yes, I pulled over and waited for it to pass). I've had my vision go blurry while walking, while working at the computer, and so on. It's sometimes associated with headaches, but not always. I sometimes smell something faintly metallic when it happens. And I told my doctors. THREE doctors. And they ignored the complaint.

    Whatever.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Metamora

    Leo – although I cannot assist you, please take comfort in knowing you are not alone. I have had this for over 10 years. I don't drive at night. And I hardly drive at all in the winter. Terrified of causing an accident if I can't pull over fast enough. I thought the vertigo was caused by the surgeons forgetting to plug my ears during open heart surgery a few years ago – was laid in an ice bath – but not one doctor will confirm that the BPPV is caused by crystal disloding in the inner ear.
    I can't see for more than a few hours at a time without my eyes getting all blurry and zig-zaggy. And I was denied Social Security Disability. Doctors know nothing.

    February 4, 2011 at 08:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Mylene Smith

    Thank you for sharing this it has a very informative content.. I hope more of this comes..

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    God bless and more power..

    February 14, 2011 at 22:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Lynne

    I have had bouts of blurred vision maybe once a month or more for many years. They last 15 minutes and no other symptoms. I have had MRI's which are indeterminate. The neurologist thinks it's blood pressure related but my pressure is not elevated when I am having an incident. I do have blood pressure fluctuations and am on 3 blood pressure medications. I am on Plavix but blurry vision spells continue. I want to have the test for the CYP2C19 function to see if Plavis is efffective for me. My eyes are not the problem according to Opthamologists.

    March 20, 2012 at 15:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Kidt Soldanoj

    Some genuinely nice and useful info on this internet site, besides I believe the pattern contains great features.

    August 1, 2012 at 22:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Name*Dwayne

    Hi my left eye started getting blurry about a month ago and now my right eye has done the same there no pain except for little wiggle lines coming through here and there could there be a serious problem!

    November 18, 2012 at 02:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Veronica Iwanyszyn

    There have been traditions of people ice swimming in the middle of winter on a lake for short stretches, sometimes as part of a Polar Bear Club. Sometimes people taking short swims for thirty seconds or so have felt invigorated afterwards.:-::

    Adieu http://healthfitnessbook.comdg

    June 23, 2013 at 04:40 | Report abuse | Reply

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