Eye chart - Vision Loss in Chronic Illness

Vision Loss Due to Chronic Illness – Know the Facts

Vision loss is one of the most common concerns in adults worldwide. However, it is also one of the most ill-understood. Even knowing how many people actually suffer from vision loss is difficult. 

Statistics from 2018 showed that over 30 million Americans, for example, reported some degree of visual impairment. However, many medical experts agree that an appreciable portion of the population may actually have some degree of vision loss that they do not admit to or even realize they are experiencing. 

Most people think of vision loss as something that primarily impacts the elderly. While it is true that visual impairment is much more common in those over 50, many younger people also suffer from it. 

Notably, the instance of vision loss is much higher in those who also suffer from other chronic health conditions. Even those who have health concerns unrelated to vision or the use of the eyes may experience loss of vision or visual disturbance. 

Losing your vision is a really big deal, regardless of your age. Learning more about what causes vision loss in chronic illness patients and how to slow the process can be very helpful for those coping with it. 

Vision can be impacted by chronic illness.

Vision Loss Symptoms

There are far more symptoms of vision loss than just an inability to see. There are varying degrees of visual impairment, and many associated concerns that people may not even realize are related to their vision loss or eye health. 

The most common symptoms associated with a decrease in vision or visual processing include: 

  • Pain or soreness in the eyes
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Abnormal color or dilation of the pupils
  • Red, itchy, or dry eyes
  • Veiny or bloodshot eyes
  • Discharge from the eyes

Some lesser-known symptoms that may be directly correlated to vision loss include:

  • Spasming or tremors around the eyes, including under the eye and the eyelid
  • Inability to walk properly or an abnormal walking pattern
  • Loss of balance
  • Weakness or lack of coordination
  • Falls or frequent tripping 
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea, including vomiting 
  • Numbness or tingling around the eye area or in the face
  • More severe symptoms such as weight loss, intense thirst, frequent urination, and more

It is important to note that some symptoms associated with vision loss can actually be very dangerous. If you or someone you know experiences any of the following issues, consult a medical professional as soon as possible: 

  • Inability to think clearly 
  • Exhaustion or abnormal lethargy
  • Slurred or garbled speech
  • Extreme pain in the head, face, or eyes
  • Pupils that do not react to changes in light
  • Confusion, delirium, hallucinations, aggression, or other major and sudden behavioral changes that are not otherwise explainable 
  • High fever (101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher)
  • Loss of control of the bladder or bowels
  • Seizures, changes in consciousness, fainting, or passing out

These symptoms can all be signs of serious and life-threatening conditions that require immediate medical attention. If they occur – even if vision loss is otherwise a regular occurrence for you or your loved one – seek medical help right away.

Vision loss can be frustrating and even debilitating.

What Causes Vision Loss & Visual Impairment? 

Pinpointing the exact cause of a person’s visual impairment can be difficult – especially if it develops in adulthood. There are numerous reasons why a person may develop impaired sight and not all of them are directly related to the health of the eyes. 

The most common causes of vision issues are trauma, degeneration, or infection of the eyes or the surrounding structures. However, many other causes may also exist, including everything from malnutrition to hypertension to vascular disorders. This is one of the things that makes vision loss so frustrating – and so important to mention to a professional as soon as symptoms begin.

Many chronic medical conditions can also cause visual disturbances. As such, it is important for those with existing disabilities and chronic illnesses to understand the potential causes of vision loss and how to address these concerns with their healthcare providers.

Which Medical Conditions Can Cause Loss of Vision?

Do all chronic conditions cause vision concerns? No. But there are many, many conditions that can – some of which may surprise you. 

Just some of the chronic health issues that can result in damage to the eyes or a loss of vision include:

  • Diabetes
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Lupus
  • Fibromyalgia 
  • Lyme Disease
  • Thyroid Disease
  • Cancer
  • Myasthenia Gravis
  • Sickle Anemia 
  • Stroke or Brain Injury
  • Epilepsy
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Any condition that impacts the structures or function of the eye or brain

The reason why so many of these conditions can lead to problems with the eyes is that most of them involve damage to the structures that make sight possible. 

Some conditions directly impact the physical tissues in or around the eye. This may involve degeneration over time or a more rapid weakening due to an autoimmune response. That weakening or degeneration can attack the muscles around the eye, the blood vessels that supply the tissues there, or any other physical part of the eye.

Other conditions cause neurological issues. This can quickly become a vision-related problem, considering over half of the human brain is involved in the processing of sight in some way. When the brain is in any way compromised, sight is likely to follow suit. 

Of course, those who have suffered from chronic illness for a longer time are more likely to deal with vision loss. However, it is the drastically higher instance of visual disturbance in those who are under the age of 50 and also dealing with a chronic illness that is striking to healthcare providers and patients alike. 

The Impact of Visual Disturbance on Chronic Illness Patients

When you are experiencing visual disturbance, it can be a very frustrating and isolating experience. You can feel angry, frightened, worried about the future, and confused about what is happening to your eyesight. It is all very normal.

I know this very well. I am currently in the process of gradually losing my own eyesight due to what we believe are the effects of multiple sclerosis, but I am still in the early stages of full diagnosis of the neurological issues I am dealing with. 

That is one of the worst parts of the entire experience – not knowing for sure what is causing my visual disturbances. Are they going to be permanent? Will they gradually worsen or can they be stopped or even reversed? All of it is still up in the air. 

Thankfully, diagnosis is in progress. I keep that in mind and look forward to the future because I know that once diagnosis happens for me, my medical providers can likely help me find a solution for the vision loss I am experiencing. 

Having your vision tested is an important part of self care while coping with chronic illness.

What Can Be Done for Those Experiencing Vision Loss?

So, what can be done for those who are dealing with vision loss? Thankfully, there are a lot of remedies in today’s world – and many of them allow for treatment that fits into the busy schedules of modern chronic illness patients. 

First, you will need to address the exact symptoms and severity of your vision loss with your medical provider. This will involve disclosing any other health conditions you may have, as well as medications or treatments you are undergoing for those conditions. 

In some instances, those treatments or medications may be the cause of your visual impairment and can be changed or doses can be adjusted to counteract the issue. 

If you have had a major change in diet – either by choice or as a symptom of your ongoing chronic illness or disability – it is important to raise this as a potential concern. Malnutrition and vitamin deficiency can cause visual impairment. 

You will also need to talk to your provider about any potential trauma or adverse events that might have caused your vision loss. If these are nonexistent, your provider can then move on in determining the cause of your impairment and how to address it correctly. 

Treatments for Diminished or Damaged Eyesight

In many cases, you can use topical products like eye drops – either over the counter or prescription – to address some of the concerns of vision loss. You may also be prescribed oral medication to treat the root causes of your poor eyesight. 

In other cases, you may require glasses or contacts, which can not only improve your vision but may actually be able to correct it. This is especially true if you have developed what some may call a “lazy eye”, which happens when the muscles of the eye are weakened. Glasses and sight exercises may be able to correct your concerns over time. 

Lastly, there are surgical interventions available to help with diminished eyesight. Surgeries exist that can remove cataracts or other physical causes of poor eyesight, as well as surgeries to help repair damaged or weakened eye structures. In some places, injections are even available that can improve the function of the eyes from inside the eye itself, although these treatments are still not as widely available as other options. 

Ultimately, the most important course of action for a chronically ill person who is experiencing weakened or diminished eyesight is to address the concern with their healthcare provider promptly. Many chronic conditions have numerous, sometimes confusing symptoms – many of which are still being studied in patients. The best thing you can do for yourself and other chronically ill people is to be honest about your loss of vision and talk to your doctor about how it may relate to your ongoing condition.

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