Visual impairment is a term used to describe any kind of vision loss to the extent that even with conventional forms of correction or treatment, the person’s vision remains poor. A visually impaired person usually requires some form of visual support such as a low vision aid and is usually unable to enjoy what most people would take for granted.
“Being visually impaired can be frightening, especially when it affects those who once had good vision,” says Dr Gill. “In fact, just taking into cognizance the facts on visual impairment should send the message that we cannot take our eyes for granted”.
“Cataracts, or the clouding of the eye’s lens preventing light from passing through to the retina, is the most common cause of loss of vision,” says Dr Gill. “Because cataracts form slowly, causing gradual vision loss, it may not be noticeable to the patient until much later”. That is why annual eye checks for people above 50 years old are important.
Symptoms of cataracts include double, cloudy or blurry vision, difficulty seeing in poorly lit spaces, and colours that seem faded. Cataracts affect people in their 60s and 70s, but may sometimes appear earlier in people who are excessively exposed to sunlight. “Many younger patients who have cataracts early are golfers and sports people who are not in the habit of wearing sunglasses.”
Treatment with surgery involves replacing the eye’s cloudy lens with an artificial intraocular lens (IOL). Wearing sunglasses and a hat with a brim to block ultraviolet sunlight may help to delay cataracts.
Glaucoma, a condition where an increase in pressure inside the eye impairs vision by damaging the optic nerve, is the second leading cause of visual impairment. “Any damage to the optic nerve is irreversible so it is important to find out if there is any history of glaucoma in your family as the condition is hereditary. Early detection and treatment is crucial or the vision will gradually deteriorate over time to a small tunnel vision, and then blindness can occur,” emphasizes Dr Gill. Treatment for glaucoma usually includes prescription eye drops and/or surgery.
Diabetic retinopathy, another leading cause of visual impairment, is caused by diabetes. It is a condition where the tiny blood vessels in the retina (back of the eye) are damaged due to diabetes. It affects the vision of more than half of the people diagnosed with diabetes age 18 or older.
People with diabetes should have a complete eye exam through dilated pupils at least once a year. Diabetic retinopathy is treated with surgery or laser surgery. With timely treatment, adequate control of blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels, and regular follow ups, up to 90 per cent of all cases of blindness from diabetes can be prevented.
Preventing Visual Impairment
Treatment methods for cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and even age related macular degeneration (another leading cause of visual impairment) have improved over the years and can help slow or even halt vision loss, especially for those who are diagnosed and treated early.
Some final words from Dr Gill: “Many people will have some type of visual problem at some point in their lives. It is important that if you have an underlying condition like diabetes, hypertension or glaucoma that you visit an ophthalmologist regularly and comply with prescription medication and eye drops to prevent further vision loss.”
WHO Global Vision Facts:
- 39 million people worldwide are blind
- 246 million have low vision (severe or moderate visual impairment)
- 80% of visual impairment can be prevented
- 90% of the visually impaired people live in developing countries
- Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness
- Uncorrected refractive errors are the main cause of visual impairment
- 65% of visually impaired and 82% of blind people are over 50 years of age
Should you require further information, please contact Gill Eye Specialist Centre at Hospital Fatimah 05-5455582 or email: email@example.com.