The gradual loss of vision

Journal Article


Journal Title

South African Family Practice

Journal ISSN
Volume Title

South African Academy of Family Physicians


University of Cape Town

Gradual loss of vision is a clinical problem that is encountered fairly regularly in most primary healthcare settings. Patients present with chronic, slowly progressive and generally painless visual loss. The reduction in vision is usually bilateral, though frequently asymmetrical, and occurs over weeks to years. A goal-directed assessment of the patient presenting with gradual loss of vision is required. A history of the type of visual loss, e.g. central or peripheral, and whether it is worse for near vision or distance vision, is helpful. The examination should focus on visual acuity, confrontation visual field testing, pupil testing for the presence of an afferent pupil defect and assessment of the red reflex and fundoscopy. The more common conditions that cause gradual loss of vision can be divided into two groups based on the reversibility of the visual loss. Cataracts, refractive error, corneal blindness and early diabetic macular oedema are generally reversible. Optic atrophy, glaucoma, retinal degeneration and age-related macular degeneration usually cause permanent loss of vision. Most of these conditions are briefly discussed in this article. This has been performed at a level that is suitable to primary care.