Sight loss can happen to anyone, at any time. Right now there are nearly 2 million people in the UK who have significant sight loss, and this figure is expected to double by 2050. The cause could be genetic, the result of an accident, illness or injury, or simply because of the ageing process but lifestyles can have an impact too – around half of all sight loss is preventable or treatable if detected early enough.
Some of the more common causes of sight loss include:
Macular Disease (MD)
The central part of the retina we use for seeing things in fine detail – for reading, writing, driving, and recognising faces and colours, is called the macula. Macular disease is the collective term for several conditions which cause damage to the cells of the macula thus affecting the central vision. Macular disease is the most common cause of sight loss in the UK and age-related form of macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of sight loss amongst older people. At the moment there is no cure for AMD but drug therapy, laser treatment or other medical treatment may, in some cases, be able to slow down or halt the disease.
Macular disease causes blurred, distorted or dim vision and may progress slowly. It’s not painful so the affected person may not notice any changes at first. Regular sight tests should pick up any changes in vision.
You can check your vision at home using an Amsler Grid. Further information can be found on the Macular Society website.
Glaucoma is a name for a group of conditions which affect the optic nerve and affects two in every 100 people over the age of 40. People may have glaucoma and not know it as in the early stages there are usually no symptoms. 40% of the optic nerve can be damaged before any vision loss is even noticed and the damage cannot be reversed so it is important to have regular eye tests. Anyone can develop glaucoma but the risk increases as you get older.
Further information can be found on the International Glaucoma Association website.
People with diabetes are at risk of developing a condition called diabetic retinopathy which affects the blood vessels supplying the retina, the part of the eye which is sensitive to light and very important to vision. The blood vessels become weak and damaged and the resulting lack of blood supply to the retina can cause serious damage if not treated. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in adults under the age of 65. It can be successfully treated by laser – if caught early enough. Laser treatment can’t restore sight already lost but could stop the condition progressing further. Another reason to have regular sight tests.
Further information can be found on the NHS Choices website.
Every year thousands of people in the UK suffer a stroke and visual problems are common, affecting up to two thirds of stroke survivors. Visual difficulties can vary from slight to more severe – there may be central vision loss, visual field loss, eye movement problems or visual processing problems. Along with other after-effects of stroke, visual difficulties are often resolved in time as the brain heals but where recovery does not happen it is important to have your eyes examined by an eye-care specialist for assessment and possible treatments and strategies to help.
The Stroke Association has a useful information leaflet (Factsheet 37) covering stroke and sight loss.