Low vision

What is low vision?

Low vision means that even with regular glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery, people find everyday tasks difficult to do. Reading the mail, shopping, cooking, seeing the TV, and writing can seem challenging.

Millions of people lose some of their vision every year. Irreversible vision loss is most common among people over age 65.

Is losing vision just part of getting older?

No. Some normal changes in our eyes and vision occur as we get older. However, these changes usually don’t lead to low vision.

Most people develop low vision because of eye diseases and health conditions like macular degeneration, cataract, glaucoma, and diabetes. A few people develop vision loss after eye injuries or from birth defects. While vision that’s lost usually cannot be restored, many people can make the most of the vision they have.

Your eye care professional can tell the difference between normal changes in the aging eye and those caused by eye diseases.

How do I know if I have low vision?

There are many signs that can signal vision loss. For example, even with your regular glasses, do you have difficulty:

  • Recognizing faces of friends and relatives?
  • Doing things that require you to see well up close, like reading, cooking, sewing, or fixing things around the house?
  • Picking out and matching the color of your clothes?
  • Doing things at work or home because lights seem dimmer than they used to?
  • Reading street and bus signs or the names of stores?

Vision changes like these could be early warning signs of eye disease. Usually, the earlier your problem is diagnosed, the better the chance of successful treatment and keeping your remaining vision.

Normal vision

Scene as viewed by a person with normal  vision

Age-related macular degeneration

Scene as viewed by a person with age-related macular degeneration

Diabetic Retinopathy

Scene as viewed by a person diabetic retinopathy    

Glaucoma

Scene as viewed by a person with  glaucoma


Cataract

Scene as viewed by a person with cataract

How do I know when to get an eye exam?

Regular dilated eye exams should be part of your routine health care. However, if you believe your vision has recently changed, you should see your eye care professional as soon as possible.

What can I do if I have low vision?

Many people with low vision are taking charge. They want more information about devices and services that can help them keep their independence.

Talk with your eye care professional

It’s important to talk with your eye care professional about your vision problems. Even though it may be difficult, ask for help. Find out where you can get more information about services and devices that can help you.Talk with your eye care professional

What Mary, Jim, Crystal, and Mike have in common is that they’re taking charge of their health. They have different types of vision loss from different eye diseases. Yet each of them asked about available resources that might help them continue to live independently. Each needed specific visual devices and training on how to use them.

Many people require more than one visual device. They may need magnifying lenses for close-up viewing, and telescopic lenses for seeing in the distance. Some people may need to learn how to get around their neighborhoods.

If your eye care professional says, “Nothing more can be done for your vision,” ask about vision rehabilitation.

These programs offer a wide range of services, such as low vision evaluations and special training to use visual and adaptive devices. They also offer guidance for modifying your home as well as group support from others with low vision.

Investigate and learn

Be persistent. Remember that you are your best health advocate. Investigate and learn as much as you can, especially if you have been told that you may lose more vision. It is important that you ask questions about vision rehabilitation and get answers. Many resources are available to help you. Write down questions to ask your doctor, or take a tape recorder with you.

Rehabilitation programs, devices, and technology can help you adapt to vision loss. They may help you keep doing many of the things you did before.

What can I do if I have low vision?

Many people with low vision are taking charge. They want more information about devices and services that can help them keep their independence.

What can I do about my low vision?

Although many people maintain good vision throughout their lifetimes, people over age 65 are at increased risk of developing low vision. You and your eye care professional or specialist in low vision need to work in partnership to achieve what is best for you. An important part of this relationship is good communication.

Here are some questions to ask your eye care professional or specialist in low vision to get the discussion started:

What changes can I expect in my vision?

  • Will my vision loss get worse? How much of my vision will I lose?
  • Will regular eyeglasses improve my vision?
  • What medical/surgical treatments are available for my condition?
  • What can I do to protect or prolong my vision?

Courtesy of the National Eye Institute (NEI) and National Institute of Health (NIH)

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