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Sight problems are thought to affect approximately 285 million people worldwide. Of these people, 246 experience low vision and 39 million are blind. In the United States, an estimated 1.3 million are considered legally blind, which is defined in the United States as having a visual acuity of 20/200 or worse or a visual field of 20 degrees or less, even with the best possible sight correction. There is a variety of causes for sight problems, and while vision impairment can occur at any age, those 40 and older are at the greatest risk for eye diseases. People with sight problems can take advantage of treatments and adaptive devices that allow them to successfully perform a wide range of tasks. There are many different types of sight problems that each come with different solutions, as evidenced by the examples below.
Nearsightedness, also known as myopia, occurs when a person experiences blurred vision when looking at objects in the distance, but good vision when looking at close objects. Nearsightedness is a common condition, with nearly 30 percent of the American population experiencing it. If one or both parents are nearsighted, their child has an increased chance of inheriting the condition. Nearsightedness typically progresses from school-age to around age 20, when the eye stops growing. However, some adults develop nearsightedness as a result of health conditions or visual stress. The problem can be corrected with glasses, contact lenses, laser procedures, or corneal refractive therapy in which an individual wears a series of rigid contact lenses that gradually reshape the cornea’s curvature.
Farsightedness, also known as hyperopia, occurs when a person experiences blurred vision when looking at close objects. For those with severe farsightedness, both near and far objects will appear blurry. Farsightedness affects approximately 5 to 10 percent of people in the United States and is often an inherited condition. The problem can be corrected with glasses, contact lenses, or refractive surgery which permanently changes the shape of the cornea.
Macular degeneration refers to damage to the retina which results in the loss of vision in the center of a person’s visual field. Macular degeneration affects 30 to 50 million people around the globe. Few macular degeneration patients have a total loss of vision, but the affliction does have a profound effect on visual functioning. The condition makes it hard to read, recognize faces, and experience shadow and contours. Approximately 10 percent of people aged 66 to 74 experience macular degeneration, with the percentage increasing with age. There is no treatment, although some studies have found that high doses of vitamins and antioxidants may help. Adaptive devices such as magnifying glasses, special lenses, and computer screen readers can help patients to live independent lifestyles.
During retinal detachment, the retina at the back of the eye pulls away from the blood vessels needed for oxygen. The longer retinal cells are denied of oxygen, the greater risk of permanent vision loss in the affected eye. If caught early, retinal tears can be fixed before full detachment occurs. Symptoms include sudden flashes of light, a shadow over a portion of the normal field of vision, or the sudden appearance of floaters. Causes of retinal detachment include injury, advanced diabetes, inflammatory eye disorders, or aging. Retinal detachment can often be repaired with surgery, but in some cases people don’t recover any lost vision.
Blindness is a severe impairment in which an individual has little to no remaining vision. A blind person may still have the ability to tell light from dark and the direction of a light source. Someone who experiences total blindness, clinically referred to as NLP or “no light perception,” suffers from a total lack of form and visual light perception. There is a wide range of causes of blindness including genetic defects, injury, and age-related degeneration. People with serious visual impairments can use a wide range of tools and techniques to live independently. For example, white canes can extend a person’s range of touch, guide dogs can assist in mobility, braille can allow people to read, and computer technology can help to communicate.
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