Blindness

  • Medical Author:
    Andrew A. Dahl, MD, FACS

    Andrew A. Dahl, MD, is a board-certified ophthalmologist. Dr. Dahl's educational background includes a BA with Honors and Distinction from Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, and an MD from Cornell University, where he was selected for Alpha Omega Alpha, the national medical honor society. He had an internal medical internship at the New York Hospital/Cornell Medical Center.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What are the different types of blindness?

Color blindness is the inability to perceive differences in various shades of colors, particularly green and red, that others can distinguish. It is most often inherited (genetic) and affects about 8% of males and under 1% of women. People who are color blind usually have normal vision otherwise and can function well visually. This is actually not true blindness.

Night blindness is a difficulty in seeing under situations of decreased illumination. It can be genetic or acquired. The majority of people who have night vision difficulties function well under normal lighting conditions; this is not a state of sightlessness.

Snow blindness is loss of vision after exposure of the eyes to large amounts of ultraviolet light. Snow blindness is usually temporary and is due to swelling of cells of the corneal surface. Even in the most severe of cases of snow blindness, the individual is still able to see shapes and movement.

People often say, "I am 'blind as a bat' without my glasses." All bat species have eyes, and most have excellent vision. More importantly, the term blindness means the inability to see despite wearing glasses. Anyone who has access to glasses and sees well with the glasses cannot be termed blind.

What causes blindness?

The many causes of blindness differ according to the socioeconomic condition of the nation being studied. In developed nations, the leading causes of blindness include ocular complications of diabetes, macular degeneration, and traumatic injuries. In third-world nations where 90% of the world's visually impaired population lives, the principal causes are infections, cataracts, glaucoma, injury, and inability to obtain any glasses.

Infectious causes in underdeveloped areas of the world include trachoma, onchocerciasis (river blindness), and leprosy. The most common infectious cause of blindness in developed nations is herpes simplex.

Other causes of blindness include vitamin A deficiency, retinopathy of prematurity, blood vessel disease involving the retina or optic nerve including stroke, ocular inflammatory disease, retinitis pigmentosa, primary or secondary malignancies of the eye, congenital abnormalities, hereditary diseases of the eye, and chemical poisoning from toxic agents such as methanol.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/25/2015

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