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Unaddressed refractive errors, cataracts, and glaucoma are the top three causes of vision loss and blindness. (Learn More)
In the U.S., slightly over 1 million people are blind, with another 3.22 million people experiencing some level of vision loss. These numbers are expected to double by 2050. (Learn More)
Primary Causes of Blindness Worldwide
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1 billion people around the world have vision impairments that could have been prevented or still need to be treated. Uncorrected refractive errors and cataracts are the leading causes of blindness.
The causes of moderate to severe vision impairment or blindness around the world are as follows:
- Unaddressed refractive errors: 123.7 million people
- Cataract: 65.2 million people
- Glaucoma: 6.9 million people
- Corneal opacities: 4.2 million people
- Diabetic retinopathy: 3 million people
- Trachoma: 2 million people
Globally, the presence of distance vision impairments is approximately four times higher in low- to middle-income countries than in high-income countries. In high-income countries, people are more likely suffer vision impairment due to diseases like diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration.
Children experience vision loss for a variety of reasons across different countries. The leading causes of visual impairment for children in low-income countries are congenital cataracts. In middle-income countries, retinopathy of prematurity is the leading cause.
The Definition of Blindness
Defining blindness is more complex than just assuming total vision loss. There are many different ways to define blindness, explains the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). Many people consider blindness to be the inability to see anything, while some people can determine lightness from darkness but are still functionally blind.
Someone can also be considered blind if they experience the following:
- Sight that is bad enough that even with the help of corrective lenses, alternative methods of engaging in activities must be used
- Trouble seeing even when wearing glasses or contact lenses
- Total or near-total blindness
- Central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye, also known as being “legally blind”
NFB explains that they are no clear or universally accepted definitions of “visually impaired,” “low vision,” or “vision loss.” Millions of people around the world experience a range of visual disabilities that significantly impact their daily lives.
Rates of Blindness in the U.S.
As of 2015, an estimated 1.02 million people in the U.S. were blind, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An additional 3.22 million people had a diagnosed vision impairment.
By 2050, the CDC predicts that more than 2 million people will be blind, and between 7 and 9 million people will be living with a visual impairment.
Additional statistics on the rates of blindness in the U.S. include:
- Over 4 million people over the age of 40 have an uncorrectable vision impairment.
- Almost 7 percent of children under the age of 18 have a diagnosed eye and vision problem.
- About 3 percent of children are blind or visually impaired.
- About 93 million people are at high risk for serious vision loss.
- Approximately 90 percent of blindness caused by diabetes can be prevented.
The rate of blindness and vision impairment in the U.S. is expected to double over the next 30 years due to the aging population. Likewise, high rates of diabetes and other chronic diseases in the country put the population at an increased risk for vision loss.
The Cost of Blindness
Reports from the CDC have found vision loss to be among the top 10 disabilities in the United States. Blindness and vision problems impact many factors of an individual’s life as well as those of their family members and caregivers. The emotional strain of vision loss is a risk factor for the following:
- Social isolation
- Family stress
- Additional health conditions
- Premature death
In addition to the emotional impact of vision loss, there is a high economic impact. The annual economic impact of major vision loss among adults age 40 and older is estimated to be $145 billion. Millions of people experience substantial economic and social consequences of their vision loss, including diminished quality of life.
Fortunately, early detection and treatment of conditions that can lead to vision loss has been found to be the most effective approach to preserve sight. The important thing is for people to recognize the need for regular eye exams, especially as they age, as many causes of vision loss have no early warning signs.
During the consultation, we will ask you about your eye health history and your medications, and perform some tests. You will then be examined by the surgeon who will discuss your treatment options. Your personal Patient Counselor will help you throughout the process.
Your Counselor can review payment options and schedule you for surgery and related appointments, such as pre- and post-operative exams. Prior to your procedure you will have a dilated eye exam, and you should discontinue wearing your contact lenses and begin taking eye drops as instructed.
Plan to be at the center for two to three hours the day of your procedure. ICL eye surgery is a fairly brief outpatient procedure. Your surgeon dilates your eyes, and gives you a local anesthetic to numb the area. A tiny incision is made, and the clear lens is slipped between your iris and your eye’s natural lens. The day of your procedure should be a day of rest.
Your Patient Counselor will give you detailed post-operative instructions and eye drop regimen for your recovery. After ICL surgery, you’ll need several follow-ups with your eye doctor. Visual recovery is rapid, and you can expect noticeable improvement within a day or two. Most patients are generally able to return to their normal activities within two or three days following their procedure.
Protecting Your Vision
While some causes of blindness are out of your control, there are many things you can do to prevent vision loss. Through healthy living and routine eye care, it is possible to maintain healthy vision long into old age.
The National Eye Institute (NEI) offers the following tips for preventing vision loss throughout your life:
Get a dilated eye examComprehensive dilated eye exams are the number one thing you can get to protect your eye health. They are the only way to detect eye diseases early on and treat them before they progress too far.
Identify your risk of eye diseasePeople with a family history of eye disease, or who are African American, Hispanic, or Native American, are at an increased risk of eye and vision problems.
Maintain a healthy weightBeing overweight or obese is linked to an increased risk of eye disease.
Control your blood pressurePeople with high blood pressure are at an increased risk for some eye diseases.
Carefully manage diabetes.People with diabetes are at risk for diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to vision loss and blindness. If you have diabetes, maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is essential for your vision health.
Eat the right foods.Consuming foods like dark leafy greens and fish high in omega-3 fatty acids supports good vision.
Stay active.Regular physical activity supports your overall health and reduces the risk of developing conditions that can impact your vision, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
Don’t smoke.Smoking can harm your vision and eye health. It increases your risk of macular degeneration and cataracts, and it can damage the optic nerve.
Use protective eyewear.Wearing safety glasses and goggles while playing certain sports or working jobs that can damage your eyes greatly reduces the risk of eye injury and related vision loss.
Wear sunglasses.Sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays do a lot to protect your eyes, even on cloudy days.
Maintain proper hygiene when changing contact lenses.Anytime you put anything in your eyes, such as contact lenses, be sure you wash your hands thoroughly first, disinfect your lenses, and change them often.
Let your eyes rest.Especially for people who work at a computer for many hours a day, make sure to rest your eyes periodically. NEI suggests the 20-20-20 rule. Rest your eyes every 20 minutes by looking at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
Following the above recommendations does not guarantee perfect vision for your whole life. These tips encourage a beneficial lifestyle that supports healthy eyes and will help to protect your vision as you age.
Coping With Blindness
Facing vision loss and blindness can be an overwhelming and extremely difficult time in a person’s life. The familiarity of navigating life through vision may be disappearing, but there are still many opportunities for leading a full and rewarding life.
As millions of people around the world experience vision loss, resources to support people with partial or total vision loss continue to grow. Many people with vision loss are still able to live independently through the help of technology and other tools that make everyday living accessible and enjoyable.
Blindness and Vision Impairment. (October 2020). World Health Organization.
Blindness Statistics. (January 2019). National Federation for the Blind.
Fast Facts of Common Eye Disorders. (June 2020). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Keep Your Eyes Healthy. (May 2020). National Eye Institute.
The Burden of Vision Loss. (June 2020). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.