Causes of a Cloudy Film on the Eye

Having what appears to be a cloudy film on the eye can interfere with daily tasks and decrease quality of vision. The human eye has many structures than can be affected by conditions that cause symptoms of cloudy vision. They include the tear layer over the surface of the eye, the eye lining tissue, the clear part at the front of the eye, and the lens within the eye.

An eye examination allows your doctor to visualize the eye structures. (Image: YakobchukOlena/iStock/Getty Images)

Dry Eye Syndrome

Problems with the tear layer, known as dry eye syndrome, can cause a cloudy film. Dry eyes can happen when there is insufficient tear production, the tears evaporate too quickly, or the tears produced have an abnormal consistency. This is often caused by inflammation of glands along the eyelids due to bacterial invasion or obstruction. Cloudy vision from dry eyes usually varies throughout the day and seems to improve with blinking or use of artificial tears.

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis refers to inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin layer of tissue that lines the eyelids and covers the front of the eye. Causes can be bacterial, viral or allergic. Conjunctivitis often stimulates discharge from the eye that can range in color from almost clear to yellow or green, depending on the cause. Other common symptoms of conjunctivitis include eye redness, swelling and crusts on the eyelashes, especially in the morning.

Corneal Swelling

The clear part at the front part of the eye is called the cornea. Its allows light to pass through and reach the vision-sensing tissue at back of the eye, the retina. If the cornea becomes swollen, this can result in cloudy vision. Possible causes of a swollen cornea include wearing a tight or over-worn contact lens, an eye infection, a corneal scratch and hereditary cornea diseases. Most of these conditions cause pain or discomfort and are associated with eye redness.

Cataracts

The clear lens within the eye focuses images on the retina at the back of the eye. When a cataract develops, the normally clear lens becomes cloudy. Cataracts can develop gradually with aging or more rapidly after eye injuries. People who take steroid medicines or have diabetes have an increased risk for cataracts. Cataracts usually make vision seem worse in poor lighting conditions and can produce symptoms of glare in addition to cloudy vision.

Other Causes

Very high eye pressure within can cause cloudy vision along with severe pain. This condition is called acute glaucoma and can cause blindness. A vitreous detachment is another consideration with cloudy vision. The eye is filled with a gel-like material called the vitreous, which is attached to the retina by microscopic fibers. A vitreous detachment refers to pieces of the vitreous breaking away from the retina. This can produce a film-like appearance often associated with flashing lights or floating specks in the vision. Vitreous detachments can sometimes cause holes or tears in the retina.

Next Steps

Although some causes of a cloudy film in your eye will go away on their own, it's important to have any change in your vision checked by a doctor. An eye examination is necessary to check the internal and external structures of the eye, enabling an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Call you doctor immediately if you experience a sudden loss of vision.

Reviewed by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.

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