What causes blindness? 20 possible conditions

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Overview

Blindness is the inability to see anything, even light. If you are partially blind, you have limited vision. Complete blindness means that you cannot see at all and are in total darkness. Legal blindness refers to vision that is highly compromised: What a person with healthy eyes can see from 200 feet away, a legally blind person can see only from 20 feet away.

If you suddenly lose the ability to see, seek medical attention right away. Go to the emergency room for treatment. Do not simply wait for your vision to return. Immediate treatment increases the chances of restoring your vision, depending on the cause of your blindness. Treatment may involve surgery or medication.

What Are the Types of Blindness?

Total blindness means that you cannot see anything. If you have partial blindness, you may suffer from blurry vision or the inability to distinguish the shapes of objects, depending on the cause of your vision impairment.

What Causes Blindness?

The following eye diseases and conditions can cause blindness:

  • Glaucoma refers to four different eye conditions that damage the optic nerve that carries visual information to your brain.
  • Macular degeneration destroys the part of your eye that enables you to see details. It usually affects older adults.
  • Cataracts cause cloudy vision and are more common in older people.
  • A lazy eye can make it difficult to see details and may lead to vision loss.
  • Optic neuritis is inflammation that can cause temporary or permanent vision loss.
  • Retinitis pigmentosa refers to retina damage, but leads to blindness only in rare cases.
  • Tumors that affect the retina or optic nerve can also cause blindness.

If you suffer from diabetes or have a stroke, blindness is a potential complication. Birth defects, eye injuries, and complications from eye surgery are other common causes of blindness.

Who Is at Risk for Blindness?

The following categories of people are at risk for blindness:

  • people with eye diseases, such as macular degeneration and glaucoma
  • people with diabetes
  • stroke victims
  • eye surgery patients
  • people who work with or near sharp objects or toxic chemicals
  • premature babies

What Are the Symptoms of Blindness?

If you are completely blind, you can see nothing. If you are partially blind, you might experience the following symptoms:

  • cloudy vision
  • the inability to see shapes
  • seeing only shadows
  • poor night vision
  • tunnel vision

Blindness in Infants

A child’s visual system begins to develop in the womb, but will not be fully formed until about 2 years of age. By 6 to 8 weeks of age, a baby should be able to fix his or her gaze on an object and follow its movement. By 4 months of age, the child’s eyes should be properly aligned (not turned inward or outward).

A pediatrician will screen your baby for eye problems shortly after birth. At 6 months of age, you should have an eye doctor or pediatrician check your child again for visual acuity, focus, and eye alignment. The doctor will look at your baby’s eye structures and see whether the baby can follow a light or colorful object with his or her eyes.

The following conditions can cause vision impairment or blindness in infants:

  • infections, such as pink eye
  • blocked tear ducts
  • cataracts
  • strabismus (crossed eyes)
  • amblyopia (a lazy eye)
  • ptosis (a droopy eyelid)
  • congenital glaucoma
  • retinopathy of prematurity (when the blood vessels that supply the retina are not fully developed in premature babies)
  • visual inattention (delayed development of the child’s visual system)

Your child should be able to pay attention to visual stimuli by 6 to 8 weeks of age. If your child does not react to light shining in his or her eyes or focus on colorful objects by 2 to 3 months of age, or if you notice crossed eyes or any other symptoms of impaired vision, have your child’s eyes examined right away.

Symptoms of visual impairment in young children include:

  • constant eye rubbing
  • extreme sensitivity to light
  • poor focusing
  • chronic eye redness
  • chronic tearing of the eyes
  • a white instead of a black pupil
  • poor visual tracking (following an object with the eyes)
  • abnormal eye alignment or movement (after 6 months of age)

How Is Blindness Diagnosed?

A thorough eye exam by an optometrist will help to determine the cause of your blindness or partial loss of vision. Eye doctors administer a series of tests that measure the clarity of your vision, the function of your eye muscles, and how your pupils react to light. The eye doctor will examine the general health of your eyes using a slit lamp, which is a low-power microscope paired with a high-intensity light.

How Is Blindness Treated?

In some cases of vision impairment, eyeglasses, surgery, or medication may help to restore your vision.

If you experience partial blindness that cannot be corrected, treatment usually involves guidance on how to function with limited vision. For example, you can use a magnifying glass to read, increase the text size on your computer, and use audio clocks and audiobooks.

Complete blindness requires approaching life in a new way and learning new skills, including:

  • learning to read Braille
  • using a seeing-eye dog
  • memorizing the phone keypad
  • organizing your home so you can find things easily
  • folding money in distinct ways to distinguish bill amounts
  • installing handrails in your bathroom

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

The long-term outlook for restoring vision and slowing vision loss is better when treatment is preventive and is sought immediately. Cataracts can be treated effectively with surgery and do not necessarily result in blindness. Early diagnosis and treatment is also important in cases of glaucoma and macular degeneration to help slow down or stop vision loss.

How Can Blindness Be Prevented?

To help prevent vision loss, get regular eye examinations to detect any eye diseases. If you are diagnosed with certain eye conditions, such as glaucoma, treatment with medication can help to prevent blindness.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Head Injury

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A head injury could be an injury to the brain, skull, or scalp. It can vary in severity depending on the cause. In some cases face swelling can be a sign of a head injury.

Read more »

2

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a condition that occurs as a result of damaged blood vessels of the retina in people who have diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy can develop whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. While you ma...

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3

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a term for several eye conditions that can damage your optic nerve. It has many types, and over time it can lead to vision loss.

Read more »

4

Subarachnoid hemorrhage

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

This life-threatening hemorrhage involves bleeding between the brain and the tissues that cover it. If you experience an extreme headache, a popping sound in your head, seizures, and other symptoms, seek immediate help.

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5

Retinal Detachment

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

When the retina separates from the back of the eye, this is known as retinal detachment. It is a medical emergency that can cause partial or total vision loss.

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6

Brain Aneurysm

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

An aneurysm in the brain is a weak area in an artery in the brain that bulges out and fills with blood. It can be unpredictable and life-threatening, and can cause extremely serious conditions.

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7

Making Sense of Hypertensive Retinopathy

Hypertensive retinopathy is a condition in which high blood pressure causes vision problems by limiting the retina's function and increasing pressure on the optic nerve.

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8

Optic Neuritis

Optic neuritis is a condition in which the optic nerve becomes inflamed and causes vision loss, usually in one eye. Vision can return after the inflammation goes away.

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9

Cataract

Cataracts are dense, cloudy areas that slowly form in the lens of the eye. They are common in older people, but can also be present at birth or caused by medications, disease, trauma, or radiation.

Read more »

10

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

Macular degeneration, also called age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is a disease that causes vision loss. According to the Cleveland Clinic, this is the most common cause of vision loss in Americans over the ag...

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11

Retinal Vascular Occlusion

Retinal vascular occlusion affects the eye, specifically the retina. An occlusion occurs when one of the veins or arteries carrying blood to or from the retina becomes blocked or contains a blood clot. The blockag...

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12

Tay-Sachs Disease

Tay-Sachs is a disease of the central nervous system; it is a neurodegenerative disorder. Tay-Sachs most commonly affects infants. In infants, it is a progressive disease that is unfortunately always fatal. Rarely...

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13

Eye Emergencies

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

An eye emergency occurs anytime you have a foreign object or chemicals in your eye, or when an injury or burn affects your eye area. Remember you should seek medical attention if you ever experience swelling, redness...

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14

Basal Cell Nevus Syndrome

Basal cell nevus syndrome is a group of defects caused by a rare genetic condition. It affects the skin, endocrine system, nervous system, eyes, and bones. Other names for basal cell nevus syndrome include: Gorli...

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15

Strabismus

Strabismus is a disorder in which the eyes do not line up in the same direction. People with strabismus cannot look at the same object or place with both eyes at the same time. The condition is often referred to a...

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16

Ito Syndrome (Incontinentia Pigementi Achromians)

Ito syndrome (IS) is a rare condition that researchers believe iscaused by genetic irregularities. The conditionis not inherited, however,and a family history of IS is rare. IS is characterized by loss of skin color o...

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17

Sarcoidosis

Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease where granulomas (clumps of immune cells, usually macrophages) form in various organs. This causes organ inflammation. Doctors believe that sarcoidosis may be caused by an abnorma...

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18

Chlorine Poisoning

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Chlorine is a chemical that is used to prevent bacteria from growing in water, as well as for sanitation for sewage and industrial waste. It is also an ingredient in several household cleaning products.Chlorin...

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19

Albinism

Albinism is a rare group of genetic disorders that cause the skin, hair, or eyes to have little or no color. Albinism is also associated with vision problems. According to the National Organization for Albinism an...

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20

Vertebrobasilar Circulatory Disorders

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

An intricate web of blood vessels supply the brain with oxygen and vital nutrients. A group of arteries known as the vertebrobasilar arteries feeds the back (posterior) of the brain. Vertebrobasilar arteries ar...

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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