Almost two million people in the UK are affected by some form of blindness, with around 360,000 people being registered as blind or partially sighted. Blindness is distinct from some of the other conditions we’ve covered, in the sense that it’s not a specific condition in and of itself, but the result of certain other eye conditions.
Today’s article will take a look at some of these causes, the treatments available to you and the best ways of managing your sight loss.
Conditions that can cause Blindness
The leading cause of blindness is age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, which affects more than 600,000 people in the UK currently. AMD is the leading cause of sight loss in those aged 60 and over. It cannot cause complete blindness, but can affect your vision significantly. It tends to progress gradually, though can progress quickly in some cases.
There are two types of this eye condition:
- Dry AMD – Caused by a build-up of deposits on the macula, accounts for 90% of cases.
- Wet AMD – Caused by abnormal blood vessels developing beneath the macula.
AMD has been known to run in families, so if your parents or siblings develop to condition it is likely that you will also be diagnosed at some point in the future. It is not currently clear which genes are involved or how they’re passed through families.
Interestingly, you are four times more likely to develop AMD if you smoke compared to someone who has never smoked. The longer you have been smoking, the greater your risk – Read our stop smoking guide today.
Other risk factories which may increase your chances of AMD include:
- Sunlight – Too much exposure to the sun can be harmful. Make sure you wear UV-absorbing sunglasses if you spend long periods of time out in the sunshine.
- Obesity – It has been found that having a body mass index of 30 or greater increases your risk.
- Alcohol – Drinking more than four units a day over many years may increase the chances of early AMD.
- High Blood Pressure – There is some evidence that suggests high blood pressure and heart disease may increase your risk.
Symptoms of AMD
As your vision becomes increasingly blurred you will find that reading becomes difficult and that colours appear less vibrant than before. You may find it hard to recognise people’s faces as well, due to AMD.
Both eyes tend to eventually be affected by AMD, although you may only notice problems in one eye to begin with. Symptoms linked to Dry AMD include text becoming blurry, needing a brighter light than normal whilst reading and hazy vision.
Symptoms linked to Wet AMD include visual distortions such a straight lines appearing wavy, blind spots appearing and hallucinations such as shapes and people that aren’t really there.
Though both types of AMD are incurable, wet AMD can be treated with medication to prevent or slow the degeneration. With dry AMD, the deterioration of your vision can be very slow and you won’t go completely blind due to the fact that you’re peripheral vision is not affected.
Treatment is given in the form of practical changes and clinical support. Suggestions to help you with your vision include:
- Magnifying lenses.
- Very bright reading lights.
- Large-print books.
- Screen-reading software on your computer so that you can “read” emails and documents, and browse the internet.
There has also been some evidence that a diet high in vitamins and substances such as lutein and zeaxanthin can slow down the progression of dry AMD. Foods within this category include oranges, carrots, tomatoes, leafy green vegetables and kiwis.
The two main treatment options for wet AMD are:
- Anti-VEGF medication – To prevent the growth of new blood vessels in the eye.
- Laser surgery – To destroy abnormal blood vessels in the eye.
Another common eye condition which can lead to some form of blindness is cataracts. This is when the lens, a transparent disc inside your eye, develops cloudy patches. Over time these patches will become bigger, causing your vision to become blurry and misty. Eventually this can lead to blindness.
Cataracts commonly appear in both eyes, but not always at the same time. They are most common in older people can have a huge affect on your ability to work, drive and carry out other daily activities. If you have cataracts in both eyes, you must inform the DVLA as soon as possible. If you drive a bus, coach or lorry, you must inform the DVLA if you have cataracts in one or both eyes.
It is advised that you visit your optician if you find that your vision becomes blurred or misty, and that you find lights too bright or glaring. Other symptoms include finding it harder to see in low light and colours appearing faded.
Cataracts aren’t usually painful and don’t make your eyes red or irritated, but they can be painful if they’re in an advanced stage or if you’ve got another eye condition.
It’s not entirely clear what causes you to have cataracts. According to the NHS, the following may increase your risk:
- Family history.
- Eye injuries.
- Steroid abuse.
- Drinking too much alcohol.
In the short-term, if your cataracts aren’t too bad, stronger glasses and brighter reading lights may be able to help. Eventually though your condition will get worse and you will need surgery to remove and replace the affected lens.
Glaucoma is another prominent cause of vision loss. It occurs when the fluid in the eye cannot drain, which puts pressure on the optic nerve and causes a gradual loss of vision. Glaucoma is most common in those in their 70’s and 80’s.
This eye condition is most common in older people, affecting around one in every 10 people over 75. Ethnicity also plays a part, with people of African, Caribbean or Asian origin being at a higher risk. Your family history can also play a part, with your risk increasing if you have a parent or sibling with the condition.
It is quite common for you not to realise that you have glaucoma until you have an eye test. The condition develops slowly over many years and tends to cause a loss of peripheral vision first. Both eyes are usually affected, although it may become worse in one eye.
On occasion the condition can develop suddenly, with the follow symptoms:
- A red eye.
- Intense eye pain.
- Tenderness around the eyes.
- Seeing rings around lights.
- Blurred vision.
It’s not possible to reverse any loss of vision that occurred before glaucoma was diagnosed, but treatment can help stop your vision getting any worse. The main form of treatment include eye drops, laser treatment and surgery to improve the drainage of fluid from your eyes.
You’ll also probably need regular appointments to monitor your condition and ensure treatment is working.
This condition is a complication of diabetes that arises from high blood sugar levels causing damage to the retina. If left undiagnosed and untreated this condition can lead to blindness, although this may take several years.
Reducing the Risk
The NHS say that people with diabetes can reduce the risk by following these tips:
- Control your blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Attend diabetic eye screening appointments. Annual screenings are offered to all people with diabetes over the age of 12.
Symptoms of this condition don’t become obvious for a long time. Early signs of the condition can be found by taking photographs of the eyes during the aforementioned diabetic eye screening. You should visit your doctor or diabetes care team if you suffer from any of the following symptoms:
- Sudden loss of vision.
- Gradual worsening of your vision.
- Blurred or patching vision.
- Eye pain or redness.
- Shapes floating in your field of vision.
These symptoms don’t necessarily mean you have diabetic retinopathy, but it’s important to get them checked out.
Treatment is only necessary once a screening detects significant problems with your eyes. The main treatments for the condition include laser treatment, injection of medication into your eyes or the removed of blood and scar tissue from your eyes.
Living with Blindness
Being diagnosed with blindness or other forms of visual impairments can have a huge effect on you and your family. It is important to seek out all of the support that you need, both via specialist clinics and through organisation sch as the Royal National Institute of Blind People.
It may be that you choose to register as visually impaired. Depending on the severity of your vision loss, you’ll either be registered as sight impaired or severely sight impaired. An eye specialist will measure your visual acuity and your field of vision beforehand.
Upon registration, you will be given a Certificate of Vision Impairment (CVI), which will be sent to your doctor and to your local social services department. They will contact you to ask whether or not you want to be added to their register of visually impaired people. After you’re registered, social services will contact you again to arrange for an assessment to be carried out. The aim is to assess your needs and find out what help you require to remain independent, such as help with cleaning and cooking, or help with mobility and transport.
Registering as visually impaired can also lead to a range of benefits for you. This include disability living allowance, reduced fees on public transport and parking concessions.
Changes to your Home
Although you may be able to stay in your own home, there may be plenty of of changes that need to be made to accommodate you. The following are just some examples of the equipment that will help you on a daily basis:
- Big Button Phone – This will help you to dial and to call loved ones.
- Computer Accessories – You can purchase big button keyboards, text readers and display software.
- Personal Alarm – If you fall you can reach for your pendant that will be around your wrist or neck and call for help.
- Brighter lighting – Bright light bulbs and adjustable lights are essential for your home, particularly in the kitchen and the stairs.
It may be the case that you choose to have a charity guide dog to help get around your local area. This will provide you with a sense of independence and companionship. If you apply for a guide dog, Guide Dogs provide all the essential equipment free of charge and can also offer financial assistance if needed for things like food or vet costs.
If a guide dog isn’t for you, you can invest in a long cane to help detect objects in your path. The cane will also make drivers and other pedestrians aware that you have sight loss.
It is important that you contact the Access to Work scheme, created by Jobcentre Plus, once you have been diagnosed with a visual impairment. This provides advice and support about what equipment and adjustments may be required to enable you to do your job.
Access to Work also offer a grant to contribute towards the costs of any equipment or training that you may need, such as voice recognition software or a Braille keyboard. Depending on the size of the company you work for, the grant can pay for 80-100% of costs, up to £10,000.
Certain forms of blindness qualify for VAT exemption when ordering a personal alarm system from Lifeline24. HMRC state that a product which has been “designed or adapted for a disability” qualifies for VAT exemption.
Find out more about the Personal Alarm
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Remember to use the discount code BLOG2017 when you order one of our personal alarm systems on a Monthly or Annual Plan to receive £10 off.