6 Leading Causes Of Vision Loss And Vision Impairment

Understanding the main causes of vision loss is critical when learning how to prevent and treat various eye conditions. Our eyes are the windows to the world and the thought of losing sight is a frightening thought.

According to the World Health Organization, 1.3 billion people are living with some form of vision impairment. Many factors influence a person’s ability to see, and 80% of all vision problems are deemed to be avoidable.

Our goal is to help you understand the underlying vision loss causes that affect many of us today and help understand how you can prevent eye complications as you get older.

Some topics we will be going over will include:

Understanding Your Eyes

Before we explore the main causes of vision problems today, it is important to understand some key terms that will be used in this article.

We understand that not everyone is a science major and thats okay. You can simply reference back to some terms we listed below:

Retina

A thin layer behind the back of the eye, and is composed of several layers that convert visual signals to data. Once this data is received, it travels through the optical nerve connecting to the brain.

Optic nerve

located in the back of the eye, its job is to transmit optical information from the retina to the brain.

Iris

The color part of the eye which controls the amount of light going in.

Cornea

Is the clear dome covering the iris. It plays a significant role in focusing your vision.

Macula

The central area of the retina that lines the center of the eye. Its job is to receive and convert vision data into color.

Occipital Cortex

The rear section of the brain that receives data going from the retina, and through the optical nerve.

6 Leading Causes Of Vision Loss

It is important to understand that age plays an important factor when it comes to eyesight. The majority of people who struggle with impairment are over the age of 50. This is mainly due to the fact that symptoms are not evident right away.

This being said, anyone within any age may be affected by these 5 causes of vision loss:

1.Glaucoma

One of the largest causes of irreversible blindness in the world is Glaucoma. This is a condition where there is extensive damage to the optic nerve of the eye, which is responsible for receiving light-generated nerve responses which get transmitted from the retina to the brain.

The increase of pressure due to poor regulation of blood flow to the optic nerve can result in permanent damage. If this is left untreated, it can lead to loss of central vision, and ultimately, blindness.

Glaucoma Symptoms

Signs of any of the below symptoms require immediate attention and care by a eye doctor or health professional:

  • Vision Impairment (minor or major)
  • Extended Redness Of The Eye
  • Excessive Eye Pain
  • Tunnel Vision (Narrowed Vision)
  • Hazy looking eyes
  • Seeing Halos around eyes

Glaucoma Risk Factors

A family history of glaucoma, health conditions that reduce proper blood flow, and individuals over the age of 60 are most at risk of the condition.

Injuries, surgeries and long term Corticosteroid use, such as eye drops, inhalers and creams may also increase the chances of glaucoma.

2. Cataracts

A cataract is when the clear lens of your eye becomes clouded. Looking through a clouded eye lens is like looking through a foggy window. This condition can make it extremely difficult to read, drive and restricts the ability to see small details clearly.

Cataracts appear only on a small portion of the eye and develop behind the Iris, which is the colored part of your eye.

The lens, which focuses on the amount of light that passes into the eye becomes less flexible and thicker, causing the tissue to break down and clump together. This is what results in the areas to appear cloudy and distorted.

Cataract Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of a cataract can include:

  • Clouded or blurred vision and headache
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Double vision in one eye
  • Frequent contact prescription changes
  • Fading of colors
  • Difficulty seeing at night

Cataract Risk Factors

Aging causes the lense to become less flexible and transparent. This is due to the amount of light that strains the inner eye muscles over time.

Genetic disorders, past eye surgery, medications and even conditions such as type 1 or type 2 diabetes, can also cause the lens tissue to break down and clump, therefore blocking the amount of light that enables you to see sharper images.

3.Stroke

Every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke. According to the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC), and about one-third of stroke survivors suffer from vision impairment.

Most strokes damage only one side of the brain, but because the nerves of both eyes are connected together, they can equally be affected.

The eyes depend on the brain to read and process information, which is received by the Occipital Cortex, located in the back of the brain.

A stroke prevents oxygen and nutrients from entering the brain, therefore causing damage which often times becomes permanent if not treated quickly.

In rare cases, both sides of the brain can be damaged during the time of a stroke, causing blindness to both eyes.

Stroke Risk Factors

Risk factors of a vision loss due to a stroke, include smoking tobacco, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, alcohol, and lack of physical activity.

4.Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration occurs when the central portion of the retina called the macula, starts to deteriorate, causing the center of the eye to be blurred. The macula gives us the ability to read, drive, and process small detailed information that requires focus.

Macular Degeneration Symptoms

Individuals with Macular Degeneration may experience:

  • Visual distortion such as straight lines and ending light
  • Reduced central vision
  • Need for brighter light
  • Difficulty recognizing faces
  • Blurred letters and words
  • Difficulty adapting to low light levels
  • Sensitive to bright light
  • Constant eye pain

There are two types of macular degeneration, dry and wet. The most common is dry macular degeneration, which is milder as the symptoms develop slowly over time.

As for wet macular degeneration, it is a more sudden form of impairment, where the blood vessels under the macula start to bleed rapidly, causing symptoms to occur quicker.

Macular Degeneration Risk Factors

People who smoke, and are over the age of 60 are at more risk. Lifestyle choices including not exercising, and not eating clean foods such as fish, leafy vegetables, can also increase the chances of macular degeneration at a later age.

Nutritional deficiency is very common in senior years and can increase the risk of macular degeneration. Supplementing with vitamins and minerals can help avoid deficiency, as nutrition becomes more important as you get older.

5.Hypertensive Retinopathy

When your blood pressure is too high, the blood vessel walls along the retina can often thicken, causing the vessels to become more narrow. This prevents enough blood from reaching the retina and causes extra pressure in the optic nerve, resulting in vision loss.

Hypertensive Retinopathy Symptoms

The Symptoms, often won’t appear until the condition persists over a long period of time. Some of these symptoms can include:

  • Swelling Of The Eyes
  • Reduced Vision
  • Double Vision With Headaches
  • Blood Vessels Bursting, causing redness

Risk Factors

Risk factors can include high salt diets, tobacco use, stress, and alcohol. All of these factors promote the cause of high blood pressure, which is the main cause of Hypertensive Retinopathy

6.Diabetic Retinopathy (Diabetic Eye Disease)

This condition can develop in anyone who has type 1 or type 2 diabetes, where too much sugar in the bloodstream can block the blood vessels that supply nutrient-rich blood to the retina.

Because the eye doesn’t receive the blood it requires, it starts to create its own new blood vessels which often do not develop properly. This causes them to burst and leak.

Diabetic Retinopathy Symptoms

Diabetic Eye Disease symptoms may include:

  • Inability to see colors
  • Blurred Vision and headache
  • Black Spots Obscuring Vision
  • Loss Of Central Vision

Diabetic Retinopathy Risk Factors

The same risk factors include that of someone who is diagnosed with diabetes. These risk factors include high sugary foods, high cholesterol. Tobacco and heart disease. The duration of diabetes can put someone at an even higher risk because glucose levels increase in the bloodstream.

Can Stress Cause Vision Loss?

According to recent studies from multiple clinical reports, stress is both a cause and consequence of vision loss. 

Glaucoma, which is the leading cause of blindness today, is highly influenced by stress factors because of its effect on high blood pressure.

Stress may also lead to depression and have a long sequence of effect leading to poor lifestyle choices including diet and substance abuse. These decisions over a long period of time can also lead to many forms of heart disorders, diabetes and other forms of illness which are linked to vision loss.

Learning how to stay healthy when stressed can not only help prevent vision loss but many other life-threatening conditions.

Are Women More At Risk Of Losing Their Vision?

Although the development of the eyes is the same in both men and women, Studies have shown that nearly two-thirds of people who are visually impaired are in fact, women.

There are multiple reasons as to why women experience sight loss more than men:

  1. Women have a longer lifespan, and since eye diseases are age-related, they are more likely to be affected by conditions such as macular degeneration and cataracts.

  2. Hormones in women fluctuate more often during pregnancy and post-menopause. These changes influence vision changes because they have an impact on the immune system, which is responsible for fighting off diseases.

  3. Emotional and social factors have been proven to be higher in women than men, which often lead to stress, anxiety, and depression. This can lead to poor health choices, which ultimately lead to future risks.

Women tend to live a much busier lifestyle due to their caregiver role of juggling multiple responsibilities such as children, demanding jobs and tasks. In doing these activities, it is easy for women to neglect their own self-care, therefore increasing the chances of eye conditions.

Diagnosing Visual Impairment

An ophthalmologist examines the eyes if any visual problems are suspected. Other professionals that are qualified to examine someone’s eyes are either an optometrist or pediatrician.

 

Here are the differences between all three.

These specialists will begin by looking at your family history, followed by a series of external examinations of your eyes, including the lids, cornea, iris, lens, and conjunctiva.

Two separate tests will usually be done by a specialist.
These include:

Snellen Test

Also known as the visual acuity test, is performed where a chart containing a series of numbers and letters is used to measure your eyesight.

Usually, a patient is placed 6 meters away and is asked to read a series of numbers and letters on a chart, while closing one eye at a time. This test helps the specialist in determining the readability strength of each eye independently.

Visual Field Test

The visual field is the range of sight that a person can see, using their peripherals. During this test, lights will flash from the sides of the patient’s view, where they will be asked to press a button each time the flashes are visible.

How Do You Treat Vision Problems?

Recommendations by your doctor can be made specifically to you after examination and diagnosis. Recommendations may include:

  • Optical aids such as prescription glasses and contact lenses.

  • Regular visits to a physical therapist to help with balance and walking problems.

  • Ocular surgery or Cataract Surgery may be performed by a ophthalmologist, to repair or minimize damage.

  • Laser eye surgery performed to reshape the surface of the eye.

  • A social worker may be recommended to help cope with emotional complications caused by vision loss.

How To Prevent Vision Loss?

1. Have Your Eyes Checked Regularly

For many eye diseases, having examinations scheduled into your calendar is a crucial step in preventing visual impairment.

Conditions including diabetic eye disease, macular degeneration, and glaucoma have very little, to no symptoms in the early stages, and an eye exam is often the only way to detect occurring issues.

2.Protect Your Eyes

When your eyes are exposed to UVA or UVB light from the sun, it can put you in greater risk of macular degeneration or cataracts. These rays will cause damage to your eye lenses, so it is always best to have a pair of good quality UV protection sunglasses, in order to reduce eye strain and damage.

3. Start Eating Healthy

Intaking nutrients found in fish oils such as Omega-3’s, antioxidants and plant based nutrients can be significantly helpful in preventing vision problems. Your eyes depend on a reliable source of nutrient-rich blood to support healthy blood vessels and fighting infections as you get older.

A healthy diet can also prevent many other diseases such as diabetes, which is one of the leading causes of vision impairment

4. Quit Smoking

Research shows that Smoking doubles the chances of cataracts and macular degeneration. Smoking causes the eyes to become dry, resulting in chronic redness which increases optic nerve damage over time.

5. Avoid Drinking Too Much Alcohol

Alcohol, when taken in moderation is safe, but when abused can lead to future eye damage. The excessive use of alcohol can lead to vitamin and nutrient deficiency. Multiple studies have shown that consuming too much alcohol increase the chances of cataract formation in the eyes.

When Should You Go Get Your Eyes Examined?

For many of us, the answer is right away!

It is recommended that you go for an eye exam every one to two years. It is in your best interest to catch any progressing eye conditions that can causes vision loss early so that you and your doctor can take the nest steps to prevent further problems in the future.