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Eye Health and Low Vision

Low vision is the loss of sight that is not correctable with prescription eyeglasses, contact lenses, or surgery. Low vision does not include complete blindness, because there is still some sight. Low vision can be treated or offset, however, with the use of vision aids such as magnifying glasses.

Low vision includes different degrees of sight loss -- from having blind spots to almost a complete loss of sight. The American Optometric Association divides low vision into two categories based on the vision in the best eye:

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1. Partially sighted, meaning the person's vision is between 20/70 and 20/200 with conventional prescription lenses

2. Legally blind, meaning the person's vision is no better than 20/200 with conventional correction or a restricted field of vision less than 20 degrees wide

Low vision is a result of a variety of conditions and injuries, but age is a factor. Macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts are more common in people over age 45 and even more so in adults over age 65. It is estimated that some 14 million Americans suffer from vision impairment. 

The most common types of low vision include:

  • Loss of central vision. A condition in which there is a blind spot in the center of one's vision
  • Loss of peripheral (side) vision. An inability to see anything to either side and above or below eye level; central vision, however, remains intact.
  • Night blindness. An inability to see in poorly lit areas such as a theater, as well as outside at night
  • Blurred vision. A condition in which objects both near and far appear out of focus
  • Hazy vision. A condition in which the entire field of vision appears to be covered with a film or glare

 

What Causes Low Vision?

Besides age-related retinal conditions, there are many other possible causes of low vision, including conditions such as glaucoma and diabetes. Low vision may also result from cancer of the eye, albinism, stroke, eye trauma or a brain injury. If you have or are at risk of having these disorders, you are at an increased risk for low vision.

 

How Is Low Vision Diagnosed?

An eye exam by an eye care specialist can diagnose low vision. You should make an appointment with your eye doctor if your vision difficulties are preventing you from daily activities like reading, travel, cooking, work, watching television, and school. The tests the eye doctor will perform include the use of lighting, magnifiers, and special charts to help test visual acuity, depth perception, and visual fields.

 

Can Low Vision Be Treated?

Some sight disorders, like diabetic retinopathy, can be treated to restore or maintain vision. When this is not possible, low vision is permanent. However, many people with low vision find visual aids helpful. Popular low vision aids include:

  • Telescopic glasses
  • Lenses that filter light
  • Magnifying glasses
  • Hand-held and freestanding magnifiers
  • Closed-circuit television/video magnification
  • Reading prisms

Non-optical aids designed for people with low vision are also very helpful. Some popular non-optical devices include:

  • Text-reading software
  • Check writing guides
  • High contrast clocks and watches
  • Talking watches and clocks
  • Large-print publications
  • Clocks, phones and watches with enlarged numbers
  • Books on DVD/audiocassette

Visual aids improve both sight and the quality of life for many people. Talk to your health care provider about where to purchase visual aids.

Can Low Vision Be Prevented?

Low vision may be prevented for patients with diabetes and reversed for those whose vision loss is caused by cataracts.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Alan Kozarsky, MD on July 19, 2014

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