It’s easy to take sight for granted. What if you woke up one day and could no longer see as well as you used to? Or worse, you developed an acute loss of sight altogether?
The prospect sounds terrifying. Unfortunately for some, it’s a reality they have to struggle with for the rest of their lives.
Here are five horrifying ways to go blind that happen to people every year.
1) Blindness by Deterioration
If you ever thought you could only go blind at birth or through accidents, think again.
According to the National Eye Institute, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is one of the leading causes of vision loss in people over 50.
Macular degeneration occurs as a result of the deterioration of your retina’s macula, which is located in the center of your eye. This part of your eye is responsible for allowing you to recognize fine details in faces and read.
As macular degeneration progresses, your ability to distinguish words on a screen starts to worsen. Patients who have been diagnosed with macular degeneration may experience AMD in various degrees, from unnoticeable and mild to more severe impairment. The luckier patients don’t lose their vision at all, while the less lucky ones may completely lose sight.
While this disease happens mainly to the elderly, younger people don’t get away from it scot-free. A rare form of the disease, Stargardt disease, can cause severe vision loss in younger people who are predisposed to macula problems.
The most terrifying thing about this is that it can happen to anyone. While there is no cure yet, there are some preventative measures you can take to avoid developing AMD, or at least prevent the condition from progressing to total blindness. Regular eye exams, wearing sunglasses, and healthy lifestyle choices can all help reduce your risk of AMD.
2) Blindness by Swimming in a River
Without the threat of crocodiles or ferocious beasts in the wild, an unsuspecting person may presume that swimming in a river is safe.
But something sinister may lurk beneath the surface: a microscopic, parasitic worm called the Onchocerca volvulus. Found in certain regions of Africa, the Middle East, and South America, this worm is transmitted by a type of blackfly that resides and breeds in these rivers.
Once it takes up residence in your body, it pierces through your skin with its rostrum. There, it can produce thousands of baby larvae (microfilariae) that circulate through your bloodstream, settling in various parts of your body.
One place it can settle in is the back of your eyes. Once these parasites die in the hollow regions of your eyes, they emit a toxic substance that can result in irreversible blindness.
So, yeah. I’ll be sticking with the pool, thank you.
3) Blindness by Lead Poisoning
Sometimes the most inconspicuous things around us can be the deadliest.
One such instance is exposure to a naturally occurring element known as lead. Although restrictions on its use have been in place in the United States since the 1970s, this heavy metal is still abundantly found in a variety of everyday items, such as paint, gasoline, and old toys.
If lead is inhaled or ingested, it can accumulate in your bones and the soft tissues of your body. There’s nothing to gain from having lead in our bodies, and even a small amount of this element is enough to wreak havoc.
Once ingested, it circulates through your bloodstream and gets deposited throughout your body. It can also reach and damage the optic nerve, which is responsible for transmitting images to the brain.
There are several hazards linked with lead exposure. It can damage our brain, cause constipation, and exacerbate fatigue. Blindness is also one of the side effects, depending on how much lead you’ve ingested or inhaled.
While there have been initiatives to use alternative materials in common items, lead can still contaminate communities despite these efforts.
One such case is the Flint Water Crisis that happened in Michigan a few years ago. The city used untreated water from the Flint River as a source and delivered that contaminated water to residents via lead pipes, causing lead to leach into the residents’ drinking water.
One thing I’ve learned for sure: always use a filtration system for your tap. You can never be too safe.
4) Blindness by Genetics
It’s not unusual for young children to develop a degenerative eye condition. Especially if their family is predisposed to inheriting eye diseases.
There are several genetic eye diseases that result in moderate to severe visual impairment. Some of those conditions are:
- Retinis Pimgnetosa: This disease causes the rods and cones in the retina to degenerate, leading to progressive vision loss over time.
- Dominant Optic Atrophy: This condition leads to a progressive loss of central vision due to defects in the retina, caused by the thinning and breakdown of nerve cells.
- Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis: This disease affects the cells of the retina, which results in a severe visual impairment at infancy.
Unfortunately, once children inherit these conditions at birth or later during their youth, there is little that medical science can do about it. At least for now.
While many of these diseases remain incurable, there have been advancements in research for a few of them, such as FDA-approved gene therapy for Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis that was developed in 2019.
Hopefully, medical technology will progress to the point where we can finally cure our children of blindness. It’s only a matter of time and the hope that humanity doesn’t destroy itself by then.
5) Blindness by Diabetes
Most genetic visual diseases are so rare, you may go an entire lifetime without even encountering a single person who has one.
Diabetes, on the other hand, is a disease that affects hundreds of millions of people around the globe.
With 422 million people, or 6% of the world population, suffering from the disease worldwide, mostly clustered in developing nations of Asia and Africa, diabetes is something that has become unfortunately commonplace.
To make matters worse, this disease can lead to a complication known as diabetic retinopathy, which can cause blindness.
The constant flow of blood in the body, known as perfusion, can be disrupted by diabetes. This causes blood sugar levels to surge, restricting blood flow to the retina.
If left untreated, this disrupted blood flow can cause the eye to bleed and develop scar tissues. This weakens the tissue in the eyes and can result in symptoms such as sudden vision loss, blurred vision, and eye pain.
Patients with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are encouraged to keep their blood pressure and cholesterol under control by taking medication and attending screening appointments.
While developing this disease sounds mortifying, there are treatments for advanced diabetic retinopathy such as laser surgery and eye injections.
Hopefully, after finishing this list, you’ll know better than to leave these things to chance.