Four prevalent, different types of blindness

There’s more to blindness than meets the eye—from brain-based disorders to ocular impairments, vision loss exists on a spectrum

A young blind woman walks with a white cane alongside a teacher while a friend trails behind.
December 2, 2019

Most people think of blindness in the simplest terms: a person who can’t see. In actuality, blindness is more complex. In fact, there are many different types of blindness and visual impairment.

Some blind people truly see nothing, while others see light, shadows or objects that are close by. Vision loss can start at birth or gradually decline. Blindness can stem from a problem with the eye itself or be caused by a disorder in the brain. 

Different types of blindness can affect anyone: you, your parents, a friend, your child or anyone else. Learn more about the types of blindness that exist. 

CVI

CVI, or cortical/cerebral visual impairment, is the leading cause of modern day blindness in children. Unlike ocular forms of visual impairment, CVI is a brain-based disorder, and often coexists with an additional visual impairment.

Since the issue exists in the brain, people with this diagnosis have challenges processing what their healthy eyes are seeing. A child with CVI, for example, may see the world as a swirling mass of color.

Today, it’s estimated more than 60 percent of kids who are blind have CVI. But while CVI is the fastest growing cause of blindness in children in the U.S., too few educators and medical professionals are equipped to diagnose and intervene. Meaning countless kids are missing out on crucial opportunities to develop and thrive. When a specially trained educator works with a child with CVI and his or her family, the child’s life can improve dramatically. There is even a possibility of helping the child recover use of their vision to varying degrees.

Watch this video and hear one family’s journey with CVI.

Want to learn more about CVI? Visit the Perkins CVI Hub for more information about CVI, diagnosis, research and methods that can help children with the disorder.

Retinitis Pigmentosa

Retinitis pigmentosa is a genetic disorder, which affects up to one in 4,000 people in the U.S. and across Europe, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. People with this eye condition often have trouble seeing at night and experience a loss of peripheral vision due to the gradual breakdown in cells of the retina. It’s most commonly detected in early childhood, and can lead to total blindness later in life. 

Interested in learning more about the symptoms and diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa? Start here for a brief overview.

For people and families diagnosed with this condition, it’s important to understand the effects and progression of the disease in order to optimize quality of life. At Perkins School for the Blind, students with this eye condition learn to achieve their full potential and become strong capable adults. Watch one blind youtuber talk about her life with Retinitis Pigmentosa. 

Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration is another one of the leading causes of vision loss, affecting an estimated 10 million people in the U.S. 

There are a few types of this condition, but the most common is called dry macular degeneration. This type of visual impairment is found in adults, and causes a person’s central vision to deteriorate. In children, a genetic disorder called Stargardt Syndrome looks very similar to macular degeneration because of the way both conditions affect one’s vision. 

Diagnosis of macular degeneration can be done during routine visual exams or eye screenings. Find the help you or your loved one needs to diagnose and live with Macular Degeneration from the Macular Degeneration Foundation.

Retinopathy of Prematurity

Retinopathy of prematurity is an eye disease which occurring in babies born prematurely. It begins when blood vessels in the eye leak or bleed, resulting in scarring of the eye and retinal detachment. Although surgeries can lessen the severity of the visual impairment, children born with the condition often have little to no eye sight. 

Retinopathy of prematurity can manifest at birth, but cannot be detected without proper eye examination. Despite the severity of vision loss often connected to this condition, people with this diagnosis are more than capable of achieving their goals. Check out this article illustrating accomplishments of young blind people, some of whom have retinopathy of prematurity.

The spectrum of blindness and visual impairment varies widely from person to person. There are countless types of vision loss which affect everyone differently at different stages of life. The many types of blindness can be due to genetics, cancer, difficulties at birth, or other diseases discovered later in life. No matter the cause or symptoms, though, people with all types of blindness can live fulfilling lives with the right adaptations, assistance and services. A little research and the right questions are key to the success of a loved one or friend with a visual impairment. 

Perkins School for the Blind is always here to provide resources and support. We offer a wide variety of educational and services and resources on our campus and in public schools to support children and young adults with blindness. 

Visit our Services page for more information.

Read more about: Advocacy, CVI, Living With Blindness