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Table of contents
OverviewIs blindness or vision loss a public health problem?What is blindness in ophthalmology and how is it classified?What are the causes of blindness and what is the prevalence?Impact of blindness on IndividualsHow is blindness assessed and diagnosed?Management and rehabilitation of blindnessWhat medications are used for treating or managing blindness?What psychosocial support is available to me if I am blind (US)?What psychosocial support is available to me if I am blind (UK)?What are the latest research and technological advancements in blindness?What blindness support organizations are there available to support me in the UK?What blindness support organizations are there available to support me in the US?Summary
Stefano Mirabello NowPatientGreen tick
Medically reviewed by Stefano Mirabello, BPharm and written by Rajive Patel, BPharm - Updated on 18 Jan 2024
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Blindness is a profound visual impairment that significantly affects individuals’ daily lives and independence. Here, we aim to provide you with an in-depth understanding of blindness by exploring its definition, causes, prevalence, impact on individuals, and management strategies. We will delve into the various types and causes of blindness, discuss the social and psychological implications, examine assistive technologies and vision rehabilitation methods, and explore ongoing research and advancements in the field. By enhancing our understanding of blindness, we can promote inclusivity, support, and improved quality of life for individuals living with this condition.

Is blindness or vision loss a public health problem?

Yes.  According to the World Health Organization, Vision impairment poses an enormous global financial burden with the annual global costs of productivity losses associated with vision impairment estimated to be US$ 411 billionLoss of vision ranks among the top ten causes of disability in the United States.  Scientific evidence points to the fact that early detection and treatment can prevent blindness and vision impairment. Strategies exist and are available including:

  • detecting and treating diabetic retinopathy.  However, among people with diabetes, screening is received only by about two-thirds of persons for whom the exam is recommended and can vary significantly across healthcare settings
  • Cataract removal.  Cataract surgery can restore vision, and this surgery is cost-effective; however, among African Americans, unoperated senile cataracts remain a major cause of blindness
  • Controlling Glaucoma. Glaucoma can be controlled, and vision loss stopped by early detection and treatment. Nevertheless, half the people with glaucoma are not diagnosed, and glaucoma is still the number one blinding disease among African Americans

During the course of life, many people will experience vision impairment, and the risk of vision loss increases statistically with age. Approximately 1% of adults aged 50 to 54 years in the US have visual acuity impairment or are blind, but this can increase to more than 20% of those 85 years and over.  Therefore it is prevalent among older adults.

Public health interventions can assure access to vision care and health behaviors to prevent the onset of vision loss and to improve the health and quality of life for those who have lost vision.

What is blindness in ophthalmology and how is it classified?

Blindness is defined as the inability to see or a significant visual impairment that cannot be corrected with eyeglasses or contact lenses

Total blindness is a term used to describe those who have complete lack of light perception, documented as no light perception (NLP). Roughly 15% of people with eye disorders have total blindness, the majority of those with visual impairment have some level of vision

Types of blindness

  • Partial blindness: There is some vision referred to as low vision
  • Complete blindness: You can’t see or detect light. This condition is very rare
  • Congenital blindness: This refers to poor vision that you are born with. Causes include non-inherited birth defects and inherited eye and retinal conditions
  • Legal blindness: In order to be classified as legally blind, you must have a visual acuity of 20/200; or a visual field on 20 degrees or less. This means that even with glasses or contacts, you can only read the first letter at the top of the Snellen Chart, if that. You can also be legally classified as blind if you can see, but only in a very small window in your eye. This section explores different classifications of blindness, including legal and functional definitions
  • Nutritional blindness: Vision loss resulting from vitamin A deficiency. If vitamin A deficiency continues, it damages the front surface of the eye. In this condition, retinal cells do not function well and this type of blindness can also make it more difficult to see at night or in dim light

What are the causes of blindness and what is the prevalence?

Blindness and vision problems can result from various causes, including congenital eye conditions, acquired diseases, injuries, and aging. In fact, the leading causes of blindness and its prevalence in the United States is primarily age-related eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, cataract, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. Other common eye disorders include amblyopia and strabismus.  In babies, blindness can be caused by retinopathy of prematurity which affects premature babies as a result of abnormal growth of blood vessels in the retina.  Trachoma is a disease caused by Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria and accounts for the highest cause of blindness than any other infection. An example of a genetic cause is Retinitis pigmentosa (RP).  RP is a group of rare eye diseases that affect the retina, which is the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye. RP makes cells in the retina break down slowly over time, causing vision loss. RP is a genetic disease that people are born with.

Below is a list of the common leading causes of vision impairment:

  • age-related macular degeneration
  • cataract
  • diabetic retinopathy
  • glaucoma
  • uncorrected refractive errors

Impact of blindness on Individuals

Blindness has far-reaching consequences on individuals’ physical, psychological, and social well-being. This section delves into the different aspects of the impact of blindness, including physical limitations, psychological challenges, and educational and social implications.

Physical Impact

Blindness affects individuals’ mobility, spatial awareness, and ability to perform daily activities independently. This section explores the physical challenges faced by individuals with blindness and discusses strategies for overcoming them.

Psychological and Emotional Impact

Blindness can lead to psychological distress, depression, anxiety, and reduced quality of life. This section explores the psychological and emotional impact of blindness and discusses the importance of mental health support.

Social and Educational Impact

Blindness can pose significant challenges in social interactions, education, and employment. This section examines the social and educational impact of blindness and highlights the need for inclusive environments and accessible resources.

How is blindness assessed and diagnosed?

The diagnosis and assessment of blindness involve comprehensive eye examinations conducted by ophthalmologists and vision specialists. Diagnostic process includes visual acuity tests, visual field assessments, eye exam and specialized examinations.

Management and rehabilitation of blindness

Blindness management aims to maximize individuals’ independence and quality of life through various interventions and rehabilitative strategies.

Assistive technologies for the blind

Assistive technologies, such as screen readers, braille devices, and tactile aids, play a crucial role in facilitating communication, education, and independent living for individuals with blindness. This section explores the different types of assistive technologies available.

Orientation and mobility training

Orientation and mobility training teaches individuals with blindness techniques and skills to navigate their environment safely and confidently. This section examines the importance of mobility training and the methods used to enhance orientation skills.

Daily living skills training

Daily living skills training focuses on teaching individuals with blindness essential skills for independent living, including personal care, meal preparation, and household management. This section discusses the training programs and techniques utilized.

Access to education and employment opportunities

Ensuring equal access to education and employment is crucial for individuals with blindness. This section explores inclusive educational practices, vocational training, and workplace accommodations for individuals with blindness.

What medications are used for treating or managing blindness?

1. Medications for Glaucoma

  • Prostaglandin analogs (e.g., latanoprost, bimatoprost)
  • Beta-blockers (e.g., timolol, levobunolol)
  • Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors (e.g., dorzolamide, brinzolamide)
  • Alpha-adrenergic agonists (e.g., brimonidine)

2. Medications for Age-related Macular Degeneration

  • Anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) injections (e.g., ranibizumab, aflibercept, bevacizumab)

3. Medications for Diabetic Retinopathy

  • Anti-VEGF injections (e.g., ranibizumab, aflibercept)
  • Steroid injections (e.g., triamcinolone)

4. Medications for Retinal Vein Occlusion

  • Anti-VEGF injections (e.g., ranibizumab, aflibercept)

5. Medications for Optic Nerve Disorders

  • Corticosteroids (e.g., prednisone)
  • Immunosuppressive agents (e.g., methotrexate, mycophenolate mofetil)

6. Eye health Supplements

  • Vitamin C 500 mg
  • Vitamin E 400 IU;
  • lutein 10 mg
  • zeaxanthin 2 mg
  • zinc80 mg
  • copper 2 mg (taken to prevent copper deficiency caused by zinc)

What psychosocial support is available to me if I am blind (US)?

If you are blind or visually impaired in the USA, there are various psychosocial support services and resources available to help you cope with the challenges and enhance your quality of life. These services aim to provide emotional support, skill development, and opportunities for social engagement. Here are some examples of psychosocial support options for individuals who are blind or visually impaired:

Rehabilitation Services – State agencies and organizations provide comprehensive rehabilitation services for individuals with visual impairments. These services may include orientation and mobility training, adaptive skills training, counseling, and vocational rehabilitation to help you adapt to daily living, regain independence, and pursue employment opportunities

Support Groups – Many local and national organizations offer support groups specifically for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. These groups provide a supportive environment where you can connect with others facing similar challenges, share experiences, exchange practical advice, and receive emotional support. These support groups can be in-person or conducted virtually

Counseling Services – Mental health professionals, including psychologists and counselors, can provide individual counseling and therapy tailored to the unique needs of individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Counseling can help address emotional and psychological challenges, develop coping strategies, and enhance self-esteem and confidence

Assistive Technology Training – Various organizations and centers specialize in training individuals with visual impairments on the use of assistive technology devices and software. These technologies include screen readers, magnification software, Braille displays, and smartphone apps that can facilitate communication, access information, and enhance daily activities

Orientation and Mobility Training – Orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists can provide training to help you navigate and travel independently. They teach techniques for using mobility aids, such as white canes or guide dogs, and help you develop spatial awareness, orientation skills, and safe travel strategies

Accessible Education and Employment Services – Organizations and agencies often provide resources and support for individuals who are blind or visually impaired to access educational opportunities and vocational training. These services can include assistive technology, adaptive materials, and guidance on career development and job placement

Recreational and Social Programs – Many community centers, organizations, and recreational facilities offer programs and activities specifically designed for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. These programs can include sports, arts and crafts, music, theater, and social gatherings, providing opportunities for socialization, networking, and building supportive relationships

Advocacy and Rights Protection – Various organizations advocate for the rights and inclusion of individuals who are blind or visually impaired. They can guide legal rights, accessibility issues, and discrimination protection, ensuring that you have the necessary support to navigate societal barriers

What psychosocial support is available to me if I am blind (UK)?

If you are blind or visually impaired in the UK and seeking psychosocial support, the National Health Service (NHS) and various organizations provide a range of services and resources to assist you. Here are some examples of psychosocial support options available:

Low Vision Clinics – The NHS operates low-vision clinics where you can receive assessments and support from optometrists and ophthalmologists specializing in low vision. They can provide advice on vision aids, techniques for maximizing remaining vision, and strategies for independent living

Sight Loss Support Services – Local sight loss charities and organizations offer dedicated support services for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. These services may include one-to-one emotional support, counseling, peer support groups, and access to rehabilitation services

Rehabilitation Services – The NHS and social services provide rehabilitation services for individuals with visual impairments. These services may involve mobility training, daily living skills training, and support to help you adapt to your vision loss and maintain independence

Talking Therapies -The NHS offers talking therapies, such as counseling and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), to support individuals with mental health difficulties related to their vision loss. These services are available through the NHS Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) program

Social Services – Local social services departments can provide assessments and support for individuals with visual impairments. They can help with arranging home adaptations, equipment provision, and signposting to community resources and support groups

Rehabilitation Workers – Rehabilitation workers or habilitation specialists can provide practical guidance and training to help you develop skills for independent living, including orientation and mobility, communication, and daily tasks

Talking Books and Digital Accessibility – The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) offers a Talking Books service, providing a wide range of audiobooks and digital accessibility solutions for individuals with visual impairments. They also offer advice and support on technology, employment, and education

Peer Support and Social Groups – Local sight loss charities often organize peer support groups and social activities where individuals with visual impairments can connect with others, share experiences, and participate in recreational or educational programs

Voluntary Organisations – Organisations such as the RNIB, Guide Dogs, and local charities offer information, advice, and support for individuals with visual impairments. They provide a range of services, including emotional support, practical guidance, and access to social activities

To access these services, you can start by discussing your needs with your GP (general practitioner) or optometrist, who can refer you to relevant NHS services or provide information on local resources. You can also contact national organizations like the RNIB for guidance and support in accessing appropriate services.

What are the latest research and technological advancements in blindness?

Ongoing research and technological advancements offer promising developments in the field of blindness. This section highlights the latest advancements, including retinal implants, gene therapy, and artificial vision technologies.

What blindness support organizations are there available to support me in the UK?

  • Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB): RNIB is a leading charity organization in the UK that provides support, information, and resources for individuals with sight loss. They offer practical advice, emotional support, education, employment support, technology assistance, and a helpline.
  • Guide Dogs: Guide Dogs is a charity organization that provides guide dogs and mobility services to individuals with visual impairments. They offer support for independent living, mobility training, and assistance in finding guide dog partnerships.
  • Action for Blind People: Action for Blind People is a charity organization that offers practical support, information, and advice to individuals who are blind or partially sighted. They provide employment services, housing support, welfare rights advice, and assistive technology training.
  • Blind Veterans UK: Blind Veterans UK is a charity organization that provides lifelong support to veterans with sight loss. They offer rehabilitation, training, welfare support, and social activities to help blind veterans lead independent and fulfilling lives.
  • Thomas Pocklington Trust: Thomas Pocklington Trust is a charity organization that supports people with sight loss to live independently and participate fully in society. They provide housing support, employment services, social activities, and grants for individuals with visual impairments.
  • Sight Scotland: Sight Scotland is a charity organization that supports individuals with vision impairment, including those with complex needs and additional disabilities. They offer a range of services including education, care, rehabilitation, and residential support.

What blindness support organizations are there available to support me in the US?

  • American Foundation for the Blind (AFB): AFB is a national organization that promotes independence, equality, and inclusion for individuals with vision loss. They offer resources, publications, advocacy initiatives, technology assistance, and programs to support education, employment, and independent living.
  • National Federation of the Blind (NFB): NFB is an organization that advocates for the rights and well-being of blind individuals. They offer resources, training programs, advocacy initiatives, scholarships, and community networks. NFB also operates the NFB-Newsline, a service that provides accessible news and information.
  • American Council of the Blind (ACB): ACB is a national organization that promotes the rights and interests of individuals who are blind or visually impaired. They provide advocacy, resources, publications, peer support, and technology assistance. ACB also offers programs and events to foster community and empowerment.
  • Guide Dogs for the Blind: Guide Dogs for the Blind is an organization that provides guide dogs and mobility services to individuals with visual impairments. They offer guide dog training programs, support services, and ongoing assistance for guide dog partnerships.
  • VisionServe Alliance: VisionServe Alliance is a consortium of non-profit organizations that provide services to individuals with vision loss. They offer resources, collaboration opportunities, professional development, and advocacy initiatives to support the work of member organizations serving the blind and visually impaired community.
  • Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults: The Helen Keller National Center is a national organization that offers specialized services and support for individuals who are deaf-blind. They provide assessment, training, resources, and advocacy to empower individuals with combined vision and hearing loss.
  • Centers for disease control and prevention.

Summary

Blindness is a significant visual impairment that impacts individuals physically, psychologically, and socially. By understanding the causes, impact, and management strategies for blindness, we can work towards creating inclusive environments, promoting accessibility, and supporting individuals with blindness to lead fulfilling lives. Continued research and technological advancements hold the potential to further enhance the quality of life and independence of individuals living with blindness.

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The information provided here about medications is subject to change and is not meant to include all uses, precautions, warnings, directions, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or negative effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a particular medication does not imply that the medication or medication combination is appropriate for all patients or for all possible purposes.

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