What is Low Vision?

According to the National Eye Institute (nei.org), low vision is a vision problem that makes it hard to do everyday activities. It cannot be fixed with glasses, contact lenses, or other standard treatments like medicine or surgery. Usually, someone with low vision will experience difficulty reading, driving, recognizing faces, and or, seeing fine details.

Types of Low Vision

There are several conditions that can cause low vision. Some of them are:

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a degenerative disease of the retina that causes progressive loss of vision in the center of the eye. Some people describe it as having a “spot” or “blurry” space in the middle of their eye which obstructs their vision and interferes with daily tasks such as reading or driving. There are two types of AMD, dry and wet.

Glaucoma is an eye disease caused by a buildup of pressure in the eye that damages the optic nerve, which is responsible for transmitting impulses to the brain that creates sight. Glaucoma generally affects the side vision causing edges of the visual fluid to fade. Symptoms can include blurred vision, seeing colored rings around lights, loss of peripheral vision, and redness of the eye. Once diagnosed with Glaucoma, a patient may undergo treatment with eye drops and/or laser surgery.

Diabetic Retinopathy is a condition that can affect those living with diabetes. It causes the blood vessels that feed the retina to break. The resulting damage may appear as spots or blank areas in the field of vision. In severe cases, blood clots and scar tissue can develop in the retina which can cause total vision loss. If it is detected early the leaking vessels may sometimes be treated and closed using a laser.

Retinitis Pigmentosa is a group of inherited diseases that affect the retina of the eye causing a degeneration of the photoreceptor cells. These cells are what capture light enabling us to see. When the cells degenerate, people experience loss of night vision, color vision, and peripheral vision.

Cataracts are a clouding of the eye’s lens which causes blurriness and loss of vision. The word “cataract” literally means waterfall and when a cataract is severe it can be like looking at the world through a waterfall. Cataracts occur when the protein that makes up the eye’s lens becomes clumped. Fortunately, cataracts are highly treatable when the clouded lens is removed surgically and replaced with a clear plastic one.

Recognizing and living with low vision

If you are experiencing any changes in your vision, it is important that you contact an eye care professional immediately. Annual eye exams are essential to maintaining good eye health. Many eye conditions, if caught early enough, can be controlled and damage limited. If you have experienced vision loss due to eye disease, your doctor will probably refer you to a low vision specialist. These dedicated eye care professionals will be able to evaluate your condition and may suggest low vision aids such as optical magnifiers, electronic magnifiers, and/or daily living aids like task lighting.