Visual impairment is a term that is used in the medical industry to describe vision loss. There are over 5 million Canadians that live with an eye disease that either affects their vision or could lead to vision loss in the future – with nearly 65,000 of those individuals being right here in British Columbia, where Dr. Ali Ghahary works as a family physician.
To be visually impaired means that your eyesight cannot be corrected to what would be deemed as a “normal” level by medical professionals. Vision loss can mean that you are partially sighted or blind, in addition to having a visual field that is narrowed, declined visual acuity, as well as other forms of visual impairment. Certain types of visual impairment are also considered a disability.
In Canada, the number one cause of visual impairment is a condition that is known as age-related macular degeneration, also known as AMD, which affects individuals aged 50 and older. It occurs as a result of damage to the macula – the area in the centre of your eye that is responsible for seeing objects that are straight ahead of you. In many cases, age-related macular degeneration advances very slowly and you will only notice symptoms as the condition progresses over time. When the macula is damaged, your vision becomes distorted. A few examples of distorted vision include blurriness or shadowy areas. You are at an increased risk of developing AMD if you are a smoker or if there is history of it in your family. You can help to reduce the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration by avoiding smoking (Dr. Ali Ghahary offers smoking cessation tips here), getting regular exercise, eating healthy and maintaining normal levels of cholesterol and blood pressure.
Glaucoma is another condition that can cause visual impairment. It is a condition that causes increased pressure/fluid build-up within the eye, causing damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve is responsible for transferring visual information to the brain via electrical impulses. Similar to age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma usually does not become bothersome until later in life. If can be treated with eye drops, medication that you take orally, surgery, or a combination of all of these methods. If left untreated, however, glaucoma can lead to permanent loss of vision, so it is important to make an appointment with your physician or with your optometrist at the first sight of symptoms – which include blurred or distorted vision and eye pain.
There are also different types of blindness that an individual can be diagnosed with. These include colour blindness – where the individual is unable to tell the difference between certain colours, night blindness – which occurs in the evening or when in dimmer light and tends to make night-driving difficult, and complete blindness – where the individual has total vision loss.
If you develop sudden visual disturbances or sudden vision loss, this could be a medical emergency. Common medical causes of sudden vision loss include artery occlusion, vitreous hemorrhage, in addition to strokes or brain tumours. Dr. Ali Ghahary urges anyone who experiences sudden disturbances with their vision to seek immediate medical attention.