Vision loss and blindness

Vision loss describes any reduction in the ability to see between being fully sighted and being blind. Blindness describes a total loss of sight (cannot see anything including light). Vision loss and blindness can occur at any age but it is most common in older people. Babies can be born with eye problems that cause vision loss and blindness.

What are the main risk factors for vision loss and blindness?

There are several risk factors associated with developing vision loss and blindness. Getting older is a major risk factor. Some risk factors are related to lifestyle and can be addressed to help prevent vision loss and blindness and keep eyes healthy. Eye problems associated with lifestyle are:

  • smoking cigarettes
  • exposure to sunlight
  • injuries
  • alcohol
  • not eating enough healthy food.

Smoking cigarettes

Cigarettes contain many chemicals that are harmful to the body. When a person smokes they breathe in these chemicals which enter the blood stream and can damage the blood vessels that carry blood throughout the body. The blood vessels in the eye are very small and can be damaged easily by these chemicals, possible affecting sight. Stopping smoking or better still not starting, is one of the easiest and best things a person can do to protect their vision. (Visit CEITEC for more information about the effects of tobacco use on health

Exposure to sunlight

Eyes can be damaged by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays if they are exposed too often and for too long. In particular, damage from the sun can increase a person’s likelihood of developing cataracts (cloudy cover over the eye). The best ways to prevent eye damage from the sun are to wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat. Children whose eyes are particularly sensitive to sun damage.


Injuries to the eye (ocular trauma) are more common among Indigenous people than non-Indigenous people. Injuries to the eye are also a risk factor for developing cataract.

Not eating enough healthy food (nutrition)

The eyes, like all other organs of the body, depend upon nutrients from food to maintain their health and proper function. Good nutrition helps our eyes repair wear and tear, protect against infection, function properly, and grow (in children). A healthy diet for optimal eye heath contains plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, wholegrain bread and rice, dairy products, fish, eggs and nuts, and not very much salty and sugary food like fast food and soft drink.

What are the main types of eye conditions among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?

There are a number of problems that can affect the eye. The most common eye conditions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are:

What is known about vision loss and blindness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and adults?

The eye health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people before non-Indigenous people came to Australia was probably very good; believed to be better than that of non-Indigenous people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are less likely to have vision loss and blindness than other Australian children, however Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are three times more likely to have low vision and six times more likely to be blind than non-Indigenous adults.

What is the impact of vision loss and blindness on individuals and families?

Vision loss and blindness can affect a person’s ability to perform everyday activities such as reading, watching television, playing sports, driving and their ability to attend school or work. It can also increase a person’s risk of falls and injury. It is important to maintain healthy eyes by addressing risk factors and by getting regular eye health check-ups. Even people with no eye problems should visit an eye health professional every two years.

References and further reading

Burns J, Thomson N (2003) Eye health. In: Thomson N, ed. The health of Indigenous Australians. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press: 273-289
Durkin SR (2008) Eye health programs within remote Aboriginal communities in Australia: a review of the literature. Australian Health Review; 32(4): 664-676
Thornton J, Edwards R, Mitchell P, Harrison RA, Buchan I, Kelly SP (2005) Smoking and age-related macular degeneration: a review of association. Eye; 19(9): 935–944
O’Connor AR, Wilson CM, Fielder AR (2007) Ophthalmological problems associated with preterm birth. Liverpool, UK: Division of Orthoptics, University of Liverpool
Weih LM, VanNewkirk MR, McCarty CA, Taylor HR (2000) Age-specific causes of bilateral impairment. Melbourne: Centre for Eye Research Australia, University of Melbourne
Talkin’ up good air: Australian Indigenous tobacco control resource kit (2007) Kruger K, McMillan N, Russ P, Smallwood H
Biotext (2008) Risk factors for eye disease and injury: literature review. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2008) Eye health among Australian children. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2009) Eye-related injuries in Australia. Canberra: Cataract (2008) Centre for Eye Research Australia
Taylor HR, National Indigenous Eye Health Survey Team (2009) National Indigenous eye health survey: minum barreng (tracking eyes): summary report. Melbourne: Indigenous Eye Health Unit, The University of Melbourne
Eye health education resource kit: I see for culture (2009) International Centre for Eyecare Education
Disability Services Commission (2008) Disability Services Commission reconciliation action plan 2008-10. Perth: Disability Services Commission

© Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet 2013 
This product, excluding the Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet logo, artwork, and any material owned by a third party or protected by a trademark, has been released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 3.0 (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) licence. Excluded material owned by third parties may include, for example, design and layout, images obtained under licence from third parties and signatures.

Key resources

0 current entries
0 current entries
0 current entries


Life before the drought by Julie Weekes

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, voices and names of people who have passed away.