Eye Test

Understanding the common causes and cures of visual impairment

The number of people across the UK who live with sight loss could double to reach four million individuals by 2050, charities fear. In 2017, it was estimated that over two million people were suffering with sight loss throughout the nation — with only 360,000 of those individuals officially registered as being blind. According to RNIB though, 250 people begin to lose their sight each day and one in five will suffer from sight loss at some point in their lives.

Are there any common causes why sight loss occurs? Likewise, are there any ways to prevent the condition from developing or ways to treat it once sight loss begins? According to the RNIB, refractive error is the most common cause of sight loss amongst the two million people living with sight loss in the UK. 39% have a refractive error, whilst 23% have age-related macular degeneration (AMD), 19% have cataracts, 7% have glaucoma, 7% have an eye disease, and 5% have diabetic retinopathy. But how does this reflect demographic sight loss?

Sight loss in adults

There are a variety of common reasons why adults suffer from sight loss. The most common cause appears to be AMD, with 48% of adults blind due to AMD. Whilst refractive errors appeared to be common amongst the entire sight loss population, only 2% of adults are living with blindness due to refractive error — suggesting that refractive error must be much more common amongst children instead of adults. 17.5% of blind adults are suffering sight loss due to glaucoma, and 16% due to cataracts.

Sight loss in children

Across the UK, an estimated 25,000 children — those being people aged 16 years old or under — are now living with sight loss. There are several causes of sight loss amongst children, but cerebral visual impairment is the common cause of certification for severe sight impairment in England and Wales. Severe sight loss and blindness is difficult to treat; however, some cases of visual impairment can be treated amongst young children to correct vision defects, if caught in the early stages.

The key to correcting vision problems in youngsters is for them to receive prompt diagnosis and treatment at the earliest stage possible. Corrective lenses and glasses can be prescribed to treat refractive errors in children’s eyes, such as nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia) and astigmatism — the aim of this is to correct the vision defect before it develops into a long-term issue. If caught at a young age, the child has a better opportunity of minimising their potential sight loss.

Strabismus — the misalignment of one eye — can also be treated with the use of corrective lenses. This can be put right by correcting any refractive error with glasses, an eye patch to equalize vision, and, in some cases, surgery to alter the way the muscles pull the eye.

Meanwhile, amblyopia — this time the misalignment of the eyes, farsightedness or cataracts — can be treated using patch therapy. Approximately six out of every 10,000 newborn children have cataracts, which is a clouding of the eye’s internal focusing lens. When caught in the early stages — most effective when caught in the first four years of life — amblyopia can be corrected. If caught after the age of eight years old, amblyopia is less responsive to treatment and could result in a long-term visual impairment.

Blindness cannot be cured in all children though, unfortunately. For those who can’t have their visual impairment cured, there are schools for the blind to enhance their education and make learning as a child more successful and independent.

Sight loss in the elderly

You’re at an increased risk of sight loss as you age. The elderly is the most likely to suffer with sight loss, with one in five people aged 75 and older living with sight loss in the UK. This could potentially be linked to old age and a deterioration in health. However, research suggests that nearly half of all sight loss is avoidable, including sight loss in old age. Almost two thirds of sight loss in older people is caused by refractive error and cataracts. Both conditions can be diagnosed by a simple eye test — and the majority of cases can be treated to improve the person’s sight by prescribing correct glasses or cataract surgery.

Surgical procedures may help, too. The most common procedures involve the surgical removing of cataracts or laser eye surgery. Cataract surgery is a straightforward procedure lasting around 30 to 45 minutes. Approximately 333,000 cataract operations are carried out annually in England alone — with an estimated 30% of people aged 65 years and older having cataracts in at least one eye. This is because around 95% of cataract instances are aged related. Of those 333,000 patients annually, approximately 40% of patient have surgery on both eyes.

Elderly citizens can also become less dependent on visual aids — like contact lenses and glasses — by undergoing laser eye surgery or lens surgery. 95% of people who have had refractive surgery are happy with the results. However, most people who want to have refractive surgery will have to pay to have it performed at a private clinic, with costs varying. Additionally, around one in ten people have to have additional surgery to get the best results after laser eye surgery.

This is an article in partnership with Royal Blind.

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