Low Vision

What is low vision?

Low vision is a permanent loss of vision that cannot be improved with eyeglasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery. It makes everyday tasks more challenging. It can be shocking and depressing to learn you have low vision, but there are things you can do to cope with it.

What causes low vision?

Low vision is a consequence of certain eye diseases, such as:

Low vision can also result from some eye injuries and brain injuries.

How do I know if I have low vision?

The symptoms of low vision may include problems with:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Shopping
  • Watching television
  • Driving
  • Recognizing faces
  • Setting dials
  • Managing glare

You may experience:

  • Loss of central vision, which is what you see when looking directly at something
  • Loss of peripheral vision, which is what you see from the sides of your eyes
  • Problems distinguishing between objects of similar tones (contrast sensitivity)
  • Difficulty judging the position of objects (depth perception)

How is low vision diagnosed?

The best way to learn if you have low vision is to receive a comprehensive eye exam from an eye care professional. There are a number of tests that can be done to assess your vision and eye health and determine if you have an eye disease causing low vision. If you are having vision problems, the sooner you get an eye exam, the sooner you can begin taking steps to deal with your impaired vision and possibly prevent future vision loss.

How can I cope with low vision?

You don’t have to stop enjoying your favorite activities if you have low vision, but there are things you can do to learn how to manage them better. Start by assembling a vision rehabilitation team, which may include an ophthalmologist, low vision specialist, occupational therapist, rehabilitation teacher, orientation and mobility specialist, social worker, and/or counselor. Your vision rehabilitation team can connect you with resources and teach you how to use tools to maximize the use of your remaining vision, such as:

  • Optical low vision aids like magnifiers and telescopes to help you read and see objects more easily.
  • Non-optical devices such as talking watches, timers, blood sugar machines, and blood pressure cuffs; large-print reading materials; telephones, watches, remote controls, and thermostats with large digits and high-contrast colors; and helpful tools such as needle threaders, tactile labels, and magnifying mirrors.
  • Electronic devices including video magnifiers; audio books; electronic books, smartphones, and tablets that enable you to change the font size; low vision apps; and computers that can read aloud or magnify what is on the screen.

There are also steps you can take to meet your personal low vision needs:

  • Increase the light in your house with brighter bulbs
  • Reduce outdoor glare by wearing wrap-around sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats
  • Use brightly colored items in your house to create more contrast
  • Use heavy markers to make shopping lists that you can read easily in the store

For more on living with low vision, watch this video by The National Eye Institute entitled “Living with Low Vision: Stories of Hope and Independence.” 

Source: The National Eye Institute (NEI)