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Vision Disturbances Related to Anxiety

      By Megan Allyce Snider

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 on 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.



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 critical. Only responses to fear are shuttled to the brain, which may be one reason why these strange sensations become so prominent and focused on.


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.

Sensitivity to Light

Sensitivity to light is usually caused by pupil dilation, and the pupil dilates in response to 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. If someone is suffering from anxiety and/or panic attacks, this response will be activated at inappropriate times and flood the eyes with light, making sight and concentration more difficult. At this point, the eyes may begin to experience small floaters, stars, rings or string-like objects obscuring normal vision.

Anxiety has the power to express itself through visual changes, and these changes should not be ignored. Usually, the visual changes will persist and sometimes 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.


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