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Vision Impairment

Vision impairment occurs when a person experiences sight loss that cannot be corrected using glasses or contact lenses. It can be the result of a disease, trauma or degenerative conditions. Visual impairment is not a disease in itself but is a consequence of eye disorders. There are two main categories of vision impairment:

Partial sight: In this case, the loss of sight is moderate. People suffering from this condition may have poor visual acuity, a loss of field of vision or a combination of both.

Severe Impairment: This condition is characterized by a severe loss of sight. In fact, people suffering from it cannot do any work that relies on their eyesight, as their visual acuity may be extremely poor or their field of vision greatly reduced.

Some of the most common causes of visual impairment are glaucoma, cataract, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, etc. They are discussed in detail below:

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 Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a condition that is marked by increased pressure in the eye. This pressure builds up when the fluid in the eye, the aqueous humor, doesn’t circulate normally and causes damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve transmits images to the brain, and any damage in this nerve can cause significant loss of vision. If not treated in time, it can lead to permanent blindness within a few years.

Cause:

Aqueous humor flows out of the eye via a mesh-like channel. When this channel gets blocked, the fluid starts building up in the eye, causing glaucoma. The exact cause of this blockage is not known, but it is thought to be hereditary. Among other less common causes of glaucoma are chemical injuries, eye inflammation and blockages in the blood vessels of the eyes.

Types:

Open-angle glaucoma: This is the most common type of glaucoma and is also called wide-angle glaucoma. It is caused due to defective circulation of the fluid in the eye.

Angle-closure glaucoma: This kind of glaucoma is relatively less common and is characterized by a sudden buildup of pressure in the eye. Also known by the name of narrow or chronic angle closure, it happens because the fluid flow in the eye is disrupted due to the narrow angle between the iris and the cornea.

Symptoms:

The symptoms of glaucoma are not very apparent until it is very late on in the disease. That is why people over the age of 40 with a family history of glaucoma must get an eye examination every one or two years. If a person is suffering from diabetes, then the chances of the occurrence of glaucoma increase.

The following are the characteristic symptoms of glaucoma:

  • Seeing halos around lights
  • Loss of sight
  • Redness in the eye
  • Pain in the eye
  • Narrowing of vision leading to tunnel vision
  • Nausea

Glaucoma can be diagnosed via a simple examination. Your doctor will examine the optic nerve through your dilated pupils. The treatment includes eye drops, laser surgery or microsurgery, depending on the stage of the disease. Glaucoma cannot be prevented, but if it is detected early, it can be effectively controlled.

Cataract:

Cataract is characterized by the clouding of the lens inside the eye. Due to this clouding, the lens of the eye becomes opaque, leading to loss of vision. It can develop in one or both eyes.

Cause:

Cataracts typically occur with age and result in gradual loss of transparency in the lens. Among other reasons are diabetes mellitus, prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays, genetics and trauma.

Types:

There are two types of cataract:

Age related Cataract: This is the most common type, and it occurs with age.

Congenital Cataract: This type of cataract is present in infants or babies right after birth.

Symptoms:

  • Blurry and clouded vision
  • Small spots or dots in the vision
  • Blur patches in the sight
  • Worsening of sight in dim light or in very bright light
  • Problem in reading

If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical help. Your doctor may carry out some tests like a visual acuity test and a retinal examination to confirm the diagnosis. Cataracts can be effectively treated through a simple surgical process.

Age-related Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a condition of the eye which results in gradual loss of central vision. It results in problems in reading printed texts, recognizing people’s faces, etc. This condition usually affects both the eyes, but the extent to which it progresses may be different. The central vision only is affected in this condition, and the peripheral vision remains fine. So it doesn’t result in total blindness.

Causes:

Macular degeneration happens when the macula, which is responsible for central vision, is unable to function properly. The reason why it is unable to function properly is not known, but it is widely accepted that age, smoking habits and a history of macular degeneration in the family increases the risk of developing this condition.

 

Types:

These are mainly two types of age-related macular degeneration:

Dry AMD: This condition occurs when there is damage to the macula due to lack of nutrients and the buildup of waste products. About nine out of ten cases of AMD are of this type. The vision loss is gradual and occurs over a number of years.

Wet AMD: In this condition, abnormal blood vessels from underneath the macula damage the cells. It is a more serious condition and can lead to vision loss within days.

There is no cure for Dry AMD. Treatment generally focuses on saving whatever vision remains and making the most of it. Wet AMD can be treated with a medicine called ranibizumab which helps in stopping further blood vessels from growing. The sooner the treatment is started, the better the chances that the disease can be halted.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is caused due to complications in diabetes which lead to damage to the blood vessels of the retina. These blood vessels nourish the retina, but because of this condition, they leak blood and other fluids and cause the retinal tissue to swell and cloud the vision. This condition usually affects both eyes.

Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy are as follows:

  • Dark spots in the field of vision
  • Blurring of sight
  • Problems seeing at night
  • Dark spot at the center of vision

The risks of this condition can be minimized by controlling blood sugar, blood pressure and lipid abnormalities. The diagnosis of diabetes retinopathy is done with the help of a comprehensive eye examination. Scatter laser treatment, vitrectomy and focal laser treatments are said to be effective, but they can reduce vision loss by only up to 50 to 60%.

How to prevent vision impairment?

Your eyes are the windows to the world. So, any impairment in vision can cause difficulty. Unfortunately, not all vision impairment can be prevented. But if diagnosis is done early, then chances are that the treatment will be more effective.

Glaucoma:

This cause of vision impairment cannot be prevented. However, it is believed that eating a healthy, balanced and anti-oxidant rich diet can help in the long run. It should include foods that are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, lutein and zeaxanthin.

Cataract:

Cataracts are twice as common in smokers as non-smokers. So it is advisable to quit smoking to minimize the chances of cataracts occurring.

Other preventive measures are:

  • Including lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, unsaturated fats, etc. in the diet
  • Research shows that pine bark extract is useful in preventing cataract
  • Avoiding exposure to UVB rays
  • Controlling diabetes, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly can also be helpful

Age-related Macular Degeneration

One can reduce the risk of developing AMD to a certain extent by doing the following:

  • Quit smoking if you are a smoker
  • Limit your alcohol intake
  • A healthy diet with five daily portions of fruits and vegetables
  • Exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy body weight

Diabetic retinopathy

This condition can be prevented to a great extent by doing the following:

  • Controlling sugar levels and cholesterol and avoiding foods high in sugar and saturated fats
  • Maintaining healthy blood pressure levels and limiting the intake of salt
  • Leading an active life with regular exercise

Since the vision loss due to all these conditions cannot be restored completely, an early detection of the causes of vision impairment is imperative for a better prognosis.

How to deal with vision loss?

Vision loss can be very difficult to cope with. But to help people affected by it, many low-vision aids are available that can help you in your day to day life. These aids include telescopic lenses, magnifying glasses, hand magnifiers, reading prisms, etc. Among non-optical devices are braille readers, text-reading software, talking watches and clocks.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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