What is low vision? This vague-sounding condition, which is sometimes called vision loss or visual impairment, is a permanent, life-changing diagnosis. It’s not the same as blindness — which occurs when you lose most or all of your vision — and it’s also different than simple nearsightedness or farsightedness, which both affect how clearly you see objects.
Low vision refers to an irreversible type of vision loss that might be caused by one of many different eye conditions or diseases. Understand what a diagnosis of low vision means and learn about lighting for low vision at home and work.
What Is Low Vision?
Low vision might stem from an eye condition like macular degeneration, or it might be the result of a broader issue like diabetes. You can’t fix this type of vision loss by wearing glasses or getting surgery, and there are no medications you can take to treat it.
Fortunately, there are many proven ways to address low vision to help you live a fuller, more productive life. You’ll work with your doctor to consider options like vision aids, glasses that magnify text, and small binoculars that can help you see things better when you’re far away from them.
What Causes Low Vision?
To know whether you truly have low vision — which is permanent, partial vision loss — or another condition that affects how well you see, you’ll have to visit an ophthalmologist, which is a medical doctor who has special training in detecting eye-related issues.
The following conditions are common causes of low vision:
- Macular degeneration: This condition mostly affects older people, and it isn’t reversible — but it’s not common to go completely blind if you have macular degeneration. You might not notice any symptoms at first, but over time, your vision will become blurry, and you might have trouble recognizing people.
- Glaucoma: Like macular degeneration, glaucoma usually affects older people, but younger people can get it, too. It’s a result of high eye pressure damaging your optic nerve. If you have vision loss from glaucoma, you can’t get it back — but the good news is that there are treatments for glaucoma that slow down the damage.
- Diabetes: Diabetes is, first and foremost, a problem with how your body processes your blood sugar — but when this condition is untreated, the damage can spiral out of control and affect other parts of your body. When your blood sugar remains high for too long, this can lead to glaucoma, cataracts, and swelling in the lens of your eyes. Some of these diabetes-related eye problems are reversible, but some are not.
Are Nearsightedness and Farsightedness Types of Low Vision?
No, these conditions are different: Nearsightedness (myopia) and farsightedness (hyperopia) are both treatable conditions that interfere with the clarity of your vision. While you should seek out treatment with eyeglasses, contacts, or laser surgery, these conditions are not usually serious and won’t cause long-term health problems.
Symptoms of nearsightedness include blurriness when you look at things that are far away, headaches, and worsening night vision. Many children, teens, and young adults experience symptoms early in life, and many older adults develop the condition as they age.
Farsightedness happens more often as you get older, but it can occur in younger people as well. A typical symptom of this condition is seeing close objects as blurry while having good distance vision. Like nearsightedness, farsightedness isn’t usually a sign of health problems, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re losing your sight.
What Is Low Vision Lighting?
Unless you work with photography, film, construction, or interior design, it might surprise you to know that there are many types of lighting you can install in your home. Read over the following information whether you’re searching for low vision aids for reading, task lighting, or entire-house illumination.
Lighting to consider. Below are three types of lighting that are ideal for people with low vision. Pay special attention to what you’re going to be using the light for, though. Not all lights are appropriate for an entire space.
- Fluorescent or compact fluorescent bulbs: Fluorescents and CFL bulbs are energy-efficient and bright, but you can use a dimmer switch to make them less intense. You can use this type of lighting safely for an entire room, and it’s easier and more cost-effective to get CFL bulbs than it is to install tube lighting.
- LED lighting: Light-emitting diodes are different than incandescent and fluorescent lights in the way they burn energy, and they also last much longer than other types of bulbs. LED lights are great choices for low vision because they’re usually on the cooler side of the color spectrum and can be very bright. It’s probably not a good idea to light your whole room with LEDs, though, as the intensity of the light may bother your eyes and can hurt your retinas if you’re too close to them for too long. LEDs are ideal for close-up tasks that require focus like reading, sewing, and crafting.
- Incandescent bulbs with bluer color temperatures: Incandescent bulbs, which are the old-fashioned type with the wires inside them, aren’t usually the best choice because they have a warmer color temperature, can be dimmer than the other options, and their light tends to create a lot of shadows. If you manage to find an incandescent bulb with a cooler color temperature, you can try it out and see if it bothers you or not. Keep in mind that the shadows, glares, and dark spots might still be an issue for you because incandescent bulbs affect rooms like sunlight does.
Lighting to avoid. Check on the type and color temperature of your new light before you commit to bringing it home. If you’re not sure about how warm or cool the light is, look for the letter “K” (for “Kelvin”) on the package. A warmer light will have a lower Kelvin number and a cooler light will have a higher Kelvin number.
- Full-spectrum lighting: This type of lighting isn’t ideal for low vision because it creates glares and contains light that’s too blue for the eyes to process safely for a long time.
- Halogen bulbs that give off heat: Be careful with halogen or "tungsten-halogen" bulbs. These bulbs can be a good option for someone with low vision because they are very bright, create contrast, and are not too warm or cool, but they can heat up and make you feel uncomfortably warm while using them.
- Incandescent bulbs with warmer color temperature: Though they might make your house feel cozy, these “natural light” bulbs are some of the worst options for low vision, as they cast shadows and provide an uneven, warm light source that isn’t conducive to focusing or reading with low vision.
People with low vision have many options for lighting, but it’s important to find what works best for your eyes. Remember that the farther away your light is from your book, document, or craft, the brighter it will have to be for you to see it adequately.
You might start by using fluorescent or CFL bulbs to light the entire room and purchasing a small LED task light for your desk or reading spot. Ask your doctor or ophthalmologist if you have more specific questions about lighting for low vision.