Globally, it is estimated that approximately 1.3 billion people live with some form of distance or near vision impairment. People with vision impairment are more likely to experience higher rates of poverty and disadvantage than those without. Population growth and ageing will have an impact on the number of people needing eye care in the future. Globally, most cases of vision impairment are avoidable. There are effective interventions to prevent eye diseases, as well as prevent, delay or reverse vision impairment. Vision rehabilitation helps to improve eye function for people with irreversible vision impairment (Prevention of Blindness & Visual Impairment: http://int.who.int/bindness. Accessed 30 July 2019). According to Health Service Executive (2011) the term ‘visual impairment’ refers to blindness or partial sight and not short-sightedness (myopia) or long-sightedness (hyperopia).
The Different Types of Visual Impairments
Hypermetropia (hyperopia) or farsightedness (long-sightedness) is a type of visual impairment where objects that are nearby appear blurry and those that are further away seem clearer.
Myopia or near-sightedness (short-sightedness) is another type of visual impairment in which nearby objects can be viewed clearly, while objects that are far away are out of focus.
Complete blindness is a condition in which an individual is not able to see anything at all from both eyes.
Partial blindness is a condition in which an individual can see to some extent from one eye. This impairment could be due to other medical conditions, like diabetic retinopathy which damages the retina to an extent that the ability to see is significantly affected.
Age-related visual impairment, such as macular degeneration, is as a result of natural wear and tear where degeneration of the eyes results in a decreased ability to see.
Causes of Visual Impairment
There are numerous causes for visual impairment, some of which are acquired, and some are congenital. Some of the causes of visual impairment are:
- Eye injury: A direct blow to or injury of the eye, especially injuries to the cornea which are quite common, may result in visual impairment.
- Inherited conditions: There are also some cases in which visual impairment is an inherited condition. One such medical condition is retinitis pigmentosa which includes symptoms such as trouble seeing at night and decreased peripheral vision.
- Eye infections: There are certain eye infections which, if transmitted from mother to child, may result in visual impairment in the child. Trachoma is caused by a contagious microorganism known as Chlamydia trachomatis and is mostly seen in countries with poor hygiene and sanitary conditions.
Some of these conditions are treatable and, if caught early enough, total blindness can be avoided. It is therefore imperative that visual impairments are identified as early as possible.
Diagnosing Vision Problems in Children
Everyone should be going for regular eye exams. This is particularly important if your child is at a heightened risk of catching a bug or has a family history of eye problems. Children should have their vision checked at infancy, six months, between 3 – 3½ years, and upon entering school (around the age of 5 years old).
You should see your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following vision problems or symptoms (they can refer you to an ophthalmologist if needed):
- Redness or swelling in the eye
- Lots of tearing or blinking
- Poor eye alignment
- Frequent rubbing of one or both eyes
- Frequent closing or covering of one eye
- Extreme sensitivity to light
- Trouble tracking an object in range of vision
- Tilting the head when trying to focus
- Eyes that appear asymmetric or that show white reflection in photos
Here are a few other possible symptoms of vision problems older children may experience:
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- Trouble seeing the blackboard at school (check with your child or their teacher)
- Sitting very close to the television
- Leaning close to books while reading or doing homework
- Headaches or nausea
“Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there’s a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.”