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Vision loss or visual loss is the absence of vision where it existed before, which can happen either acutely (i.e. abruptly) or chronically (i.e. over a long period of time). The effects of visual loss can, before the acquisition of alternative adaptations and skills, be devastating; especially when a person's vision disappears over a short period of time.

Ranges of vision lossEdit

Various scales have been developed to describe the extent of vision and vision loss based on visual acuity.[1] Early editions of the World Health Organization's ICD described a simple distinction between "legally sighted" and "legally blind".[1] The ICD-9 released in 1979 introduced the smallest continuous scale which consisted of three tiers: normal vision, low vision, and blindness.[2]

Acute visual lossEdit

Acute visual loss may be dramatic in presentation, and is almost always alarming to the person experiencing the loss. It may be caused by media opacities, retinal disease, optic nerve disease, visual pathway disorders, or functional disorders, or it may be in fact an acute discovery of chronic visual loss.

Media opacityEdit

Opacities of the clear refractive media of the eye such as the cornea, anterior chamber, lens, and vitreous humor may cause acute visual loss as manifested by blurry vision or reduced visual acuity. While pupillary reflexes may be affected, these conditions generally do not cause a relative afferent pupillary defect.

Causes of media opacity include corneal edema, hyphema, cataract and vitreous hemorrhage.

Retinal diseaseEdit

Retinal diseases may cause sudden visual loss. Because the retina is being affected, there is usually a concomitant relative afferent pupillary defect. Conditions that affect or destroy the retina include retinal detachment; macular disease (e.g., macular degeneration); and retinal vascular occlusions, the most important of which is central retinal artery occlusion.

Optic nerve diseaseEdit

Diseases which affect the optic nerve may cause acute visual loss. Signs include an abnormal pupillary reflex, with an afferent pupillary defect when the optic nerve disease is unilateral. It can also be caused by strobe light


The optic nerve can be affected by many diseases including optic neuritis, retrobulbar neuritis, papillitis, papilledema, glaucoma, ischemic optic neuropathy, and giant cell arteritis.

HypoxiaEdit

The eye is very sensitive to restriction of its supply of oxygen. A dimming of vision (a brownout or greyout) accompanied by loss of peripheral perception may result from low blood pressure, shock, g-LOC (an aviation related problem) or simply standing up suddenly, especially if sick or otherwise infirm. Vision usually returns readily once the conditions restricting blood flow are lifted.

Visual pathway disorderEdit

Visual pathway disorders are any problems that may impede the visual pathway. Rarely, acute visual loss is caused by homonymous hemianopia and, more rarely, cortical blindness.

Functional disorderEdit

The term functional disorder is now used where hysterical and malingering were historically used. This shift recognizes the inherent inability of the physician to identify the subjective experience of a patient (and thus whether that patient can truly see or not).

ReferencesEdit

  1. 1.0 1.1 International Council of Ophthalmology. "International Standards: Visual Standards — Aspects and Ranges of Vision Loss with Emphasis on Popular Surveys." April 2002.
  2. World Health Organization. International Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision (ICD-9), World Health Organization, Geneva, 1977.

External linksEdit

See alsoEdit

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