Waking up with blurry vision can be annoying — or alarming. When you're not sure what's clouding your sight, it's easy to wonder whether something serious might be going on.
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"There are many causes of sudden blurred vision. Some are worrisome, but some are not," says Howard R. Krauss, MD, surgical neuro-ophthalmologist and clinical professor of ophthalmology and neurosurgery at Saint John's Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
So, how can you tell what you might be dealing with? Here's a look at some of the most common causes of sudden blurry vision or blurry vision in the morning, plus what you can do to see more clearly.
1. Your Eyes Are Dry or Mucus-Filled
It's not unusual for eyes to be a little drier or mucus-filled first thing in the morning, Dr. Krauss explains. And both dryness and excessive mucus can temporarily blur your vision.
Fix it: Blinking a few times is often enough to rehydrate your eyes or clear away any lingering mucus bits, Dr. Krauss says. If that doesn't work, a few drops of saline solution should also do the trick.
2. Your Eyes Are Strained
Spending long stretches staring at screens or spending time in a very dry room can strain your eyes and make it harder to see clearly. "Eye strain is often associated with a reduced blink rate and therefore increases the dryness of the eyes, leading to blurred vision," Dr. Krauss explains.
In addition to blurry vision, eye strain can also make your eyes feel tired, itchy or sore, watery or dry, according to the Mayo Clinic. You might also experience a headache or feel like it takes a lot of effort to keep your eyes open.
Fix it: Take frequent breaks when you're using screen-based devices to look away and give your eyes a rest. Also useful: Regularly using saline drops or artificial tears to keep your eyes hydrated, which can help stop strain from happening in the first place, the Mayo Clinic notes. If your indoor air is very dry, running a humidifier can also help, says Dr. Krauss.
3. You Have Pink Eye
Pink eye or conjunctivitis is a common eye infection that can leave your eyes red, itchy, swollen, painful, sensitive to light and mucus-filled, making it harder to see clearly, notes the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It's possible to have symptoms in just one eye, but because pink eye is highly contagious, the infection can easily spread to your other eye too.
Fix it: Most cases of pink eye are viral and simply need to run their course within a week or two, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). (But keep in mind that pink eye can sometimes be caused by COVID-19, so pay attention to your symptoms.)
While your eyes fight off the infection, you can ease your discomfort by applying warm compresses to your eyes, using artificial tears and taking an over-the-counter pain reliever, the AAO recommends.
4. You Have a Migraine Coming On
Migraines often begin in the morning, and for some people, they're preceded by visual symptoms including vision loss or seeing different shapes, bright spots or flashes of light. These signs, called migraine auras, usually start off gradually and intensify over the course of an hour, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Fix it: There's no cure for migraine, but you may be able to lessen the intensity by taking action against your symptoms sooner. Taking your prescribed migraine medication, moving to a dark and quiet room, drinking fluids and placing a cool cloth on your forehead can help, per the NIH.
5. You Have a Corneal Abrasion
A scratch on the surface of your cornea (your eye's clear outer layer) can often be caused by fingernails or makeup brushes. And even if the nick is small in size, it can lead to significant discomfort.
In addition to having blurred or hazy vision, you might experience pain or redness, feel like something is stuck in your eye or have sensitivity to light, the AAO says.
Fix it: See an ophthalmologist if you have symptoms of a corneal abrasion, because forgoing treatment can make the injury worse. Your doctor can prescribe eye drops to relieve the pain and apply a patch over your eye to help the abrasion heal, according to the AAO.
If you start to notice your vision becomes blurry after a knock to the head, you could be experiencing a concussion. Other symptoms may include a headache, nausea or vomiting, feeling foggy or confused or having trouble balancing, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Fix it: Concussions that cause blurry vision or other serious symptoms warrant immediate treatment, so you should seek emergency medical attention, per Johns Hopkins Medicine.
7. You Have a Detached Retina
Retinal detachment, which can occur in one or both eyes, happens when the eye's retinal tissue pulls away from the back of the eye, where it normally sits.
Often the result of an eye injury, detached retinas are usually marked by blurry vision and seeing squiggly lines or floating dots that tend to shift position as you move your eye, Dr. Krauss says.
Fix it: A detached retina is a medical emergency, so call 911 right away if you're experiencing symptoms. Laser therapy or surgery is typically needed to repair the tear and prevent vision loss, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
8. You're Having a Stroke
Occasionally, a sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes could be caused by a stroke. Other symptoms can come on quickly too, including sudden numbness or weakness on one side of the body, confusion, trouble walking, loss of coordination or an intense headache that seems to appear out of nowhere, per the NIH.
Fix it: Call 911 immediately if you or someone else is having signs of a stroke. Rapid treatment is needed to keep oxygen flowing to the brain and prevent brain damage or serious disability, per the Mayo Clinic.
9. You Have a Rare Eye Infection or Injury
Blurry vision can sometimes be caused by serious eye problems, including a corneal ulcer, herpes or amebic infections, Dr. Krauss notes. Often the blurriness will occur alongside other symptoms like pain, cloudy vision or a visible spot on your cornea.
Fix it: Serious eye infections can cause permanent eye damage, so they need swift medical attention, Dr. Krauss says. See an eye doctor right away.
When to Call the Doctor for Sudden Blurry Vision
Blurry vision can be harmless or serious, depending on the cause. While you may not be able to pinpoint the culprit yourself, there's an easy way to tell whether you need to contact an ophthalmologist: "A sudden change in vision which does not clear with a blink or a moisture drop should prompt one to seek medical attention," Dr. Krauss says.
Call 911 if you're experiencing possible symptoms of a retinal detachment, corneal abrasion or a stroke.
You should call your eye doctor, too, if the blurriness is a regular problem. Even if you can easily clear your vision by blinking or using artificial tears, you may have a dry eye condition or need prescription reading glasses, Dr. Krauss says.
- Mayo Clinic: "Eyestrain"
- National Institutes of Health: "Eye Infections"
- American Academy of Ophthalmology: "Get Rid of Pink Eye Fast With These Home Remedies"
- Mayo Clinic: "Migraine"
- National Institutes of Health: "Migraine"
- American Academy of Ophthalmology: "Corneal Abrasion and Erosion"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "What Is a Concussion?"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Concussion"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Retinal Detachment"
- National Institutes of Health: "Stroke"
- Mayo Clinic: "Stroke"