A 2022 study found that India is home to approximately 5 million blind people and 70 million visually impaired people. Read on to know the causes, symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment of blindness and visual impairment.
What is blindness? What is visual impairment?
What is visual acuity?
Visual acuity measures how well you’re able to see objects. It is usually measured by asking you to read an eye chart from a certain distance. Visual acuity is typically 20/20, which means that you are able to make out details that should normally be visible from 20 feet away. As an example, if your vision is ’20/40,’ it means you need to be as close as 20 feet to see what a normal person can see at 40 feet. According to the WHO, blindness can be defined as a visual acuity of less than 3/60.
What are the types of blindness?
Although there is no fixed classification, some types of blindness include –
- Complete blindness: There is a complete loss of vision. A person is not able to even perceive light
- Partial blindness: You have limited vision but you’re still able to make out certain details
- Legal blindness: In this, your visual acuity is less than 1/60 in the better eye
- Social blindness: The visual acuity is between 3/60 to 1/60
- Economic blindness: Visual acuity is between 6/60 to 3/60
What is colour blindness?
What are the causes of blindness?
The leading causes of blindness include –
- Age-related macular degeneration
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Corneal scarring
- Prolonged, untreated refractory errors
- Childhood blindness
What are the causes of childhood blindness?
Childhood blindness is especially common in developing countries like India. Some causes contributing to childhood blindness include –
- Vitamin A deficiency
- Infections like measles, conjunctivitis etc.
- Congenital cataract
- Congenital glaucoma
- Retinopathy of prematurity, a condition that occurs in premature babies due to the development of abnormal blood vessels in the eye
What are the symptoms of blindness?
In case of complete blindness, you won’t be even able to perceive light. In partial blindness, symptoms can include –
- Blurring of vision
- Pain in the eyes
- Presence of floaters or black spots
- Inability to distinguish colours and shapes
- Inability to see at night
- Extreme sensitivity to light
What are the symptoms of blindness in children?
Symptoms in children are slightly different compared to adults. These include –
- Difference in the size of the pupils
- Difference in the colour of the pupil (it appears white instead of black)
- Bumping into walls, furniture and objects
- Inability to focus the eyes
- Side-to-side movement of the eyes (nystagmus)
- Not following an object or a person with their eyes, or not making proper eye contact
- Rubbing the eyes frequently
- Having trouble seeing at night
- Eyes that are turned inwards
What are the risk factors for visual impairment and blindness?
Most common risk factors for visual impairment and blindness include –
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Family history of eye conditions like glaucoma
- Uncorrected refractory errors like myopia (short-sightedness), hypermetropia (long-sightedness) etc.
- Deficiency of vitamin A
- Premature birth (in babies)
- Uncorrected strabismus (‘crossed-eyes’)
- Uncorrected amblyopia (‘lazy-eye)
How is blindness diagnosed?
Your doctor will take a detailed history of your symptoms and perform a thorough eye examination. This includes –
- Visual acuity: This involves reading an eye chart from a particular distance
- Visual field testing: This is to check your field of vision. Cover one eye and look straight ahead while your doctor stands in your peripheral vision holding up his fingers and asking you how many you can see
- Tonometry: This is commonly employed for glaucoma and is used to check your eye pressure
- Slit-lamp examination: This involves using a microscope with a bright light in order to examine your eyes
- Other eye tests include electroretinogram, electrooculogram etc.
- In case of diabetes, infections etc., your doctor may ask to check your blood glucose, HbA1c and serum immunology
What is the treatment for blindness?
Depending on the cause, the treatment for blindness will vary –
- Medications: For infections, glaucoma or vitamin A deficiency, you are put on antibiotics or antiviral drugs, eye-pressure lowering agents and vitamin A supplements correspondingly
- Surgery: In case of cataracts, corneal scarring or trauma to the eye, your doctor prescribes the corresponding surgery
- For diabetic retinopathy, your doctor will ask you to bring your blood glucose levels under control, prescribe medications and in severe cases, ask you to undergo surgery
- Transplant: In severe cases, your doctor will prescribe a corneal or retinal transplant in case of a damaged cornea or retina respectively
Is blindness preventable?
You can certainly reduce your chances of visual impairment and blindness by –
- Undergoing regular eye check-ups
- Getting the right treatment for your refractive errors (corrective specs, lenses, or surgery)
- Keeping your blood glucose levels in check to prevent diabetes-related complications
- Eating a well-balanced nutritious diet to prevent any kind of deficiencies, or ensuring you take proper supplements
- Reducing exposure to direct sunlight by wearing protective eye gear