Where do sight conditions get their name, and what can that tell you about them?

26 April 23

written by:

Sarah Kidner

(more articles)

A sight loss diagnosis is a life-changing event, and many will want to understand the condition, what it means for them, and how they will live their life.

A sight loss diagnosis is a life-changing event, and many will want to understand the condition, what it means for them, and how they will live their life.

Like many medical conditions, sight loss conditions can have strange and bewildering names. Understanding why they are called what they are is one route to discovering more.

In this blog, we explore the heritage of why some conditions are called what they are, explore them further and how we are funding research that will change lives today and transform them tomorrow.

Lazy eye (amblyopia)

The word amblyopia is from the Greek amblys meaning blunt, and ops meaning sight.

It is often called ‘lazy eye’ because it is a type of poor vision that usually happens in one eye but less commonly develops in both eyes. It occurs when the brain ignores one eye and relies more heavily on the other. The condition begins in childhood.

  • Discover more about Amblyopia in our A to Z of Eye conditions.

Birdshot chorioretinopathy

Birdshot chorioretinopathy is a rare condition that is hard to treat and may lead to blindness.

Birdshot chorioretinopathy is named after the painless, light-coloured spots that develop on the retina due to the condition. These spots are scattered in a birdshot pattern (the pattern from a shotgun barrel).

Chorioretinopathy refers to the areas affected in this condition, which can be further broken down to retinopathy – meaning a disease affecting the retina at the back of the eye – and choroid, the layers of blood vessels connecting the retina, the white part of the eye.

This explains the other name for the condition, birdshot uveitis, owing to its effect on the back (or posterior) of the eye.

Discover more about Birdshot chorioretinopathy in our A to Z of Eye conditions.

Fight for Sight funded research has been using artificial intelligence to extract ‘hidden’ information from retinal images of patients with a rare eye condition called birdshot uveitis.

Find out more about Artificial intelligence to improve the diagnosis of birdshot uveitis (fightforsight.org.uk).

Charles Bonnet Syndrome 

Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS) is a common side-effect of sight loss in which people see things that are not there (hallucinations). The hallucinations can be clear, detailed, and consistent.

Swiss philosopher, Charles Bonnet, was the first to describe the phenomenon in 1760 in a publication describing visual hallucinations experienced by his grandfather, who was blind secondary to cataracts. 

The condition was only called Charles Bonnet syndrome in 1967 by scientist George de Morsier.

Diabetic retinopathy 

Diabetic retinopathy is so-called because it is a condition that can affect people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. It occurs when high blood sugar levels cause damage to the blood vessels in the retina (hence retin-o-pathy). These blood vessels swell and leak or may clot, stopping blood from passing through.

There are different types and stages of diabetic retinopathy, which can vary in severity and, in some cases, lead to blindness. It is one of the most common causes of sight loss among working-age adults in the UK. With rates of diabetes on the rise, this figure is expected to increase.

We have funded Dr David Simpson from Queen’s University Belfast to define how every cell type within the retina responds to diabetes.

Dr David Simpson pictured in the lab

Best Disease

Best disease is also known as vitelliform macular dystrophy. It is an inherited condition that causes progressive sight loss. It comes from Friedrich Best, the German ophthalmologist who discovered it in 1905. Faults in a gene called BEST1 cause best disease.

More than 100 different faults have been discovered so far.

Stargardt Disease

Stargardt disease takes its name from Karl Stargardt, the German ophthalmologist who first reported a case in the early 1900s.

It is a genetic eye condition that causes progressive central sight loss. Affecting a person’s fine detailed vision, the condition is estimated to affect between one in 8,000 to 10,000 people in the UK.

Stargardt disease is a progressive deterioration of the macula, named macular dystrophy or maculopathy, which, in most cases, appears before the age of 20. It then results in a degenerative loss of acuity and central vision in both eyes.


Hemianopia, or hemianopsia, has Greek origins. Both describe a vision loss or blindness in half the visual field to either the right or left side.

Commonly, this occurs after a stroke, brain injury, or a brain tumour.

Read how Dr Webb from the University of Nottingham is researching how to restore sight loss due to stroke

Retinitis pigmentosa 

Retinitis pigmentosa describes a group of closely related inherited eye conditions that affect the retina, the specialised light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye.

The word derives from the Latin for pigmented retinitis.

RP is the most common inherited eye condition, affecting around one in 4,000 people in the UK.

Researchers funded by Fight for Sight and Retina UK have identified a new cause of the common eye condition.


There is some controversy surrounding where the term glaucoma got its name[3]. Much contemporary medical terminology stems from ancient Greek origins – and the same is true for glaucoma.

Previously, the condition was called ‘glaucosis’. Hippocratic writings referencing it said that “once the pupil has the colour of the sea – eyesight is destroyed, and you will often find that the other eye is also blind.”

Today, Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness and is characterised by damage to the optic nerve – the nerve that connects the eyes to the brain. Glaucoma is a small group of similar sight loss conditions. It has two major risk factors:

  1. Elevated eye pressure
  2. Older age

Fight for Sight is funding research that will change lives today and transform them tomorrow. For example, we are funding a researcher from the University of Bristol who has successfully demonstrated a gene therapy for glaucoma in the lab.