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Causes of Temporary Blindness in One Eye

by 
author image Dr. Tina M. St. John
Tina M. St. John runs a health communications and consulting firm. She is also an author and editor, and was formerly a senior medical officer with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. St. John holds an M.D. from Emory University School of Medicine.
Causes of Temporary Blindness in One Eye
Some eye conditions may cause temporary loss of vision. Photo Credit: millann/iStock/GettyImages

Few symptoms provoke as much alarm as temporary blindness. Conditions the lead to temporary vision loss most commonly affect one eye. The blindness can last from seconds to hours or longer, depending on the medical disorder responsible. The extensive range of possible culprits vary in seriousness.

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Nonetheless, temporary blindness requires immediate medical evaluation to determine whether you have a potentially vision- or life-threating condition. The general categories of conditions that can cause temporary blindness in one eye include eye, circulatory and nervous system disorders.

Eye Disorders

Several eye disorders can trigger temporary blindness in one eye. The vision loss might involve all or part of the visual field in the affected eye.

1. Vitreous Hemorrhage

The vitreous is the clear, jelly-like material between the lens of the eye and the retina, the light-sensing tissue at the back of the eyeball. Bleeding into the vitreous, or a vitreous hemorrhage, constitutes a leading cause of transient blindness in one eye. This condition can occur for a variety of reasons, including underlying diabetic eye disease, sickle cell disease and a forceful blow to the eye.

2. Detached Retina

With a detached retina, the retinal tissue pulls away from the back of the eyeball. Initial symptoms typically include seeing floaters and flashes of light. With extensive detachments, people often experience a gray curtain or cloud coming into their field of vision. Common causes of a detached retina include a blow to the eye and diabetic eye disease. The condition might also occur after LASIK or cataract surgery, although this complication is uncommon.

3. Other Eye Disorders

Several other eye disorders can potentially cause temporary blindness in one eye, including:

  • Inflammation of internal eye structures, including iritis, uveitis and chorioretinitis
  • Sudden increase in internal eye pressure caused by acute angle closure glaucoma
  • Eye tumors, such as melanoma

Circulatory Disorders

Circulatory disorders that reduce critical blood supply to the eye, the optic nerve or the visual areas of the brain are among the leading culprits for sudden loss of vision in one eye.

1. Retinal Artery or Vein Blockage

Blockage of the retinal artery of the eye robs the retina of oxygen-rich blood, often leading to sudden blindness in the affected eye. Blockages in arteries that feed into the retinal artery, such as the internal carotid artery, frequently cause similar symptoms. With a retinal vein blockage, fluid leaks into the retina also frequently leading to vision loss. These conditions most commonly occur due to a blood clot.

2. Transient Ischemic Attack or Stroke

A transient ischemic attack, or TIA, refers to a temporary blockage in an artery that supplies the brain. When the blockage supplies a visual area of the brain, sudden temporary blindness can result, most commonly involving one eye. With a TIA, no permanent brain damage occurs and vision returns once blood flow to the affected area is restored. With a stroke affecting a visual area of the brain, prolonged loss of blood supply damages the involved tissue. Depending on the extent of brain damage, some restoration of vision can occur while recovering from the stroke.

3. Arteritis

Arteritis refers to a group of diseases that involve inflammation of arteries, the blood vessels that supply oxygen-rich blood to the body. This inflammation leads to narrowing of the affected arteries and oxygen deprivation of the tissues supplied by them. Temporary blindness initially involving one eye is a hallmark symptom of giant cell arteritis, also known as temporal arteritis. Less commonly, transient blindness can occur with other types of arteritis.

Nervous System Disorders

Light striking the retina triggers signals that travel via the optic nerve to various areas of the brain, which register and interpret what you see. Several nervous system disorders affecting the optic nerve or visual processing areas of the brain can potentially cause temporary, one-sided blindness.

1. Migraines

Visual symptoms frequently occur in people with migraines, sometimes even temporary blindness. Some people have a form of migraines with visual symptoms affecting one eye but without an accompanying headache.

2. Optic Nerve Disorders

Disorders that affect the optic nerve can lead to temporary blindness. Conditions that cause malfunction of the optic nerve are called optic neuropathies, and numerous disorders and conditions can lead to this problem. Some examples include multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, inflammatory bowel disease and Lyme disease.

3. Other Nervous System Conditions

A variety of additional nervous system conditions can potentially cause temporary blindness in one eye, including brain or pituitary gland tumors, and conditions that cause increased pressure in the brain, or intracranial hypertension.

Other Considerations and Precautions

The leading causes of temporary blindness in one eye have been addressed but other conditions are also possible culprits. Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you develop this symptom because many of the diseases and conditions potentially responsible can lead to permanent vision loss if not treated promptly. If you cannot reach your healthcare provider right away, seek emergency medical care.

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