What Causes Blindness?

Did you know? Many people lose their eyesight simply because they didn’t have access to treatment in time.

Sometimes, what causes blindness cannot be cured, but other causes are very treatable and even preventable. Of course, it is only preventable when individuals have access to quality healthcare.

Do you know what causes blindness? Or what causes a blinding disease? Knowing the symptoms and who’s most at risk can help you decide whether you or a loved one should pursue medical treatment – and understanding treatments can make exploring your options less scary.


6 Common Blinding Diseases

Blinding diseases this image is from the "what causes blindness" blog post. It shows an eye-doctor looking for signs of an eye disease or eye infection in a patient from Francophone Africa are diseases or conditions that cause partial or total loss of vision. While there are many causes of blindness, including accidents, we’ve compiled causes that the World Health Organization (WHO) has designated as priority diseases for research and treatment. The Organization for the Prevention of Blindness (OPC) is a leading organization treating all six diseases in Francophone Africa.


1. Macular Degeneration

Macular Degeneration is caused by increased pressure in the eye that results in retinal cells dying off and not regenerating. An individual experiencing the warning signs may have blurred or no vision in the center of their vision or complete loss of sight.

Most people associate macular degeneration with elderly individuals whose vision has progressively declined over years or even decades. While it’s true that older individuals are more at risk for macular degeneration, vision loss can occur suddenly, in one or both eyes.

While macular degeneration cannot be cured, the disease can be slowed through a variety of treatments such as dietary supplements, injections, laser treatments, and surgery.


2. Trachoma

Trachoma is the leading cause of infectious blindness worldwide, caused by a highly contagious and painful bacterial infection in the eye. In fact, it affects about 21.4 million people, including about 2.2 million visually impaired and 1.2 million blind people.

The disease affects individuals, especially children, in poor communities that have limited access to adequate sanitation and clean water.

Left untreated, trachoma leads to the scarification of the eyelid, which causes the eyelashes to turn inward and rub the surface of the eye. This causes discomfort, pain, and leads to permanent damage to the cornea and irreversible blindness. Treatment includes surgery, antibiotics, and access to proper hygiene.


3. Diabetic Retinopathy

103 million people suffer from some form of diabetic retinopathy. Caused by high blood sugar and high blood pressure, diabetic retinopathy is a disease that doesn’t discriminate by geological location. Over time, blood vessels in the eye can swell, leak, or close, which can stop blood from reaching the retina for proper function. It can cause permanent blindness.

Spots in vision, blurred vision, or fluctuation vision, impaired color vision, dark or empty areas in vision, and vision loss are all symptoms of diabetic retinopathy.

The disease can be managed by keeping blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels under control. Disease progression can also be slowed through injections and laser treatments. Sometimes surgery is necessary for advanced cases.


4. Onchocerciasis (River Blindness)

Onchocerciasis is an infection caused by a parasitic worm transmitted through a black fly bite. When an individual is infected, the female worm produces thousands of larvau that move through the skin and eyes causing damage.

It is commonly referred to as river blindness as these flies breed in waterways, putting communities near them most at risk. More than 99% of infected people live in 31 African countries. Onchocerciasis is the second leading cause of infectious blindness.

Skin rashes, lesions, itching, skin depigmentation, and in the most serious cases, permanent blindness are symptoms of onchocerciasis. River blindness can be treated through medication that is taken once a year, which OPC distributes to affected populations.


5. Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a group of conditions that happens when normal fluid in the eye isn’t drained properly. This causes pressure that damages the eye’s optic nerve.

Symptoms develop slowly over many years and include changes to vision, first at the periphery and then towards the center of someone’s vision.

Glaucoma damage is permanent and cannot be reversed. Medicine and surgery can help prevent further damage.

Glaucoma is the third leading cause of blindness and the fourth leading cause of vision loss in the world. It is estimated that at least 3 million people are currently blind and 4 million have moderate to severe visual impairment due to glaucoma.


6. Cataract

Cataract is the largest cause of blindness in the world. A disease in which the lens of the eye becomes progressively opaque, cataract causes blurred vision.

Aging, cortisone medication, diabetes, trauma, and more put you at risk for developing cataract. An untreated cataract can increase your risk of a car accident by 2.5 times. The good news is that sight can be restored with cataract surgery.


Our Mission is Life-Changing

The topic of what causes blindness is vast and complicated. At the Organization for the Prevention of Blindness (OPC), we are committed to the research and implementation of effective treatments and cures for those who do not have access to quality healthcare.

Without OPC, millions of Francophone Africans would be at risk of losing their sight. We rely on charitable friends like you who believe, like us, that sight is a human right. Join OPC to have a life-changing impact in vulnerable African communities, where the need is great.