Many consider the eyes to be the most essential among the human body’s five sensory organs. The sense of vision is responsible for perceiving as much as 80% of everyday impressions and protecting the body from harm if the other senses fail. For example, if colds have rendered the sense of smell unusable, the eyes can detect features that distinguish edible and inedible food.
It can be hard to imagine life without a working pair of eyes, let alone lead such a life. Sadly, it’s the reality for an estimated 12 million people aged 40 and above in the United States, with one in 12 being visually impaired. Given epidemics like diabetes and other chronic diseases, this figure is expected to increase over the years.
However, technology strives to catch up to bring the gift of sight by any means possible. One field that has heavily invested in such an endeavor is assistive technology, particularly in designing glasses for people suffering from optic nerve hypoplasia (ONH). This article will take a closer look at this condition and the role of assistive tech in preventing patients from losing their sight completely.
Optic Nerves are too Short
While vision problems commonly happen among adults, children aren’t immune to them. ONH, sometimes called septo-optic dysplasia or DeMorsier syndrome, is a condition that typically affects children. While there’s no exact number of ONH cases, experts estimate that it occurs in one in 10,000 children, affecting males and females equally.
ONH features optic nerves that didn’t fully develop before birth, either in one eye (unilateral) or both eyes (bilateral, more prevalent). As these nerves transmit anything the eyes see to the brain, their underdevelopment can result in moderate to severe vision loss. While a child’s vision may improve as they grow despite this, the nerves are unlikely to develop further after birth.
ONH is neither progressive nor inherited, meaning it won’t worsen with age and can’t be passed on to future generations. However, previous research suggests that ONH may be sporadic, meaning the condition could manifest even without prior risk. To this day, researchers are still looking into the causes of ONH, with genetic mutations being one possibility.
Vision impairment associated with ONH involves a visual acuity of 20/200, the threshold for legal blindness in the US (according to 20 CFR 404.1581), or worse. Other signs include the following:
- Erratic eye movements (nystagmus)
- Crossed eyes (strabismus)
- Mild light sensitivity (photophobia)
- Reduced peripheral awareness
- Inability to locate objects correctly
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*All individuals are unique. Your results can and will vary.
Assistive Tech to the Rescue
While no treatment for ONH as a whole exists to date, doctors can treat its individual symptoms, though not all. Modern medicine has no remedy for visual impairment, thus relying on correcting it as much as possible. In ONH’s case, a regular pair of glasses might not do much in helping one see the world.
Fortunately, assistive technology for the visually impaired has picked up steam despite the global pandemic. Analysts predict that the market for such devices will grow by 8.6% over the next five years, with its value going well over USD$7 billion. Reasons for this upward trend include the growing adoption of such devices for educational purposes and government awareness.
Below are some examples that are either already in the market or under development:
- A wearable headset features a high-resolution camera to display the environment before the wearer’s eyes. The system is designed to provide clear vision to people whose visual acuity is as high as 20/1400. Its adjustable brightness and contrast aid people who have photophobia, whether or not as a result of ONH.
- Refreshable Braille displays enable visually impaired people to read up to 80 characters at a time and refresh to show the next 80 and so on. Some of its advantages over most systems include direct access to information and reducing the need to print a file. Many displays come in 40-, 70-, and 80-character models (40 is enough for everyday use).
- Video magnifiers, also called closed-circuit television systems, allow users to zoom in on what they want to see, whether a page or the TV screen. Standard features include stand mounts (handhelds are also available) and letter contrasting (viewing letters in black on a white background and vice versa).
A cure for visual impairment, let alone ONH, may not be coming anytime soon. But thanks to today’s technology, the visually impaired don’t have to lose out on seeing the world around them. Knowing that some assistive tech devices are either available or under development is encouraging for everyone.
 “Fast Facts of Common Eye Disorders”, Source:https://www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/basics/ced/fastfacts.htm
 “Optic Nerve Hypoplasia”, Source:https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/optic-nerve-hypoplasia/
 “Optic Nerve Hypoplasia”, Source:https://eyewiki.aao.org/Optic_Nerve_Hypoplasia
 “Assistive Technology Demand for Visually Impaired Market to Derive Above US$ 4 Bn Incremental Opportunity from Sales of Educational Devices and Software”, Source:https://www.biospace.com/article/assistive-technology-demand-for-visually-impaired-market-to-derive-above-us-4-bn-incremental-opportunity-from-sales-of-educational-devices-and-software/